The delay of a long-awaited official report on the British government’s decision to join the US-led war with Iraq in 2003 sparked outcry among legislators and political activists on Wednesday.
In a letter addressed to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, the chair of the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, said that the delay was to allow for enough time for individuals to respond to criticism of them in the draft report.
“Until we have received and evaluated responses from all those who have been given the opportunity to respond, I cannot give an accurate estimate for how long it will then take to complete our work,” Chilcot wrote, stating that the report would not be published before the UK’s next general election, scheduled to take place in early May.
In a possible indication of the reasons for the latest delay, some of those who are likely to be criticized told the BBC that they had only received the draft in late December.
The independent inquiry was launched in July 2009, with the last witness giving evidence in February 2011 and publication of the report expected later the same year.
Previous delays in the report’s publication were attributed to disputes over the publication of details of conversations between former US President George W Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Several Members of Parliament expressed their anger at the latest delay. MP Andrew Murrison tweeted: “Unbelievable. No Chilcot Iraq report before election. Hopeless. We can’t put up with this again.” A member of the House of Lords, Baroness Hussein-Ece, described the delay as an “abuse of democracy.”
Sir Richard Ottaway, the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, earlier said that the committee wanted Chilcot to give evidence to explain the delay in publication. Ottaway said he believed the report was intentionally being delayed, but he did not accuse any specific individuals of doing so.
David Cameron said he supported the committee’s request, but stated there was no evidence to suggest anyone was trying to deliberately delay or “dodge” the report.
However, in his response to Chilcot, he said: “I would have liked to have seen your report published already and certainly before the forthcoming election.”
Speaking in the British parliament on Wednesday, he described the delay as “extremely frustrating,” but added: “the responsibility [for the timing of the release of the report] lies squarely with the inquiry team . . . it would not be right for the prime minister to try and interfere.”
Cameron blamed the opposition Labour Party for delaying the setting up the inquiry in the first place, saying opposition leader Ed Miliband had voted “again and again and again” against it.
In response, Miliband said: “The inquiry was established six years ago, after our combat operations had ended. Frankly, my views on the Iraq war are well known and I want this inquiry published.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats party also warned that the delay was likely to raise fears that individuals criticized in the report were attempting to prevent or delay its publication.
“The public have waited long enough and will find it incomprehensible that the report is not being published more rapidly than the open-ended timetable you have now set out,” he said in response to the news.
Chris Nineham, a spokesman for the UK’s Stop the War Coalition, a prominent anti-war umbrella organization, echoed claims that the delay was due to “delaying tactics by the guilty parties.”
“Tony Blair and his clique are desperately trying to challenge some of the things that have been put in [the draft report] about them,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. “The establishment is closing ranks.”
Nineham also said he believed that the number of people facing criticism in the report was a factor in it being delayed.
“I suspect that from what we hear the remit of the inquiry has been widened, so some other cabinet ministers are being implicated in [the decision to invade Iraq].”
In a statement released on his behalf by his office on Wednesday, Blair denied accusations that he had attempted to delay or prevent the publication of the Chilcot report.
“We have repeatedly said that it is not true to say that Tony Blair has caused the delay in the report’s publication . . . On the contrary, he regrets this delay in its publication,” the statement said.
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