THE long-awaited Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will not be published until after the general election in May, it has emerged.
The inquiry chairman, Sir John Chilcot, will set out his reasons for the further delay in an exchange of letters with Prime Minister David Cameron today, according to Government sources.
The inquiry was originally set up by the then prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 and took public evidence from its last witness in 2011.
Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time of the war, has insisted he is not the culprit behind the delay in publication - his allies have suggested the blame lies with the civil service and sensitivities about the relations between the UK and US intelligence agencies.
There has been a stand-off between those demanding that the personal exchange of messages between the former US president George W Bush and Blair in the run-up to the war be published, and those saying such a move would represent an unprecedented breach of confidence concerning one of the most sensitive episodes in British foreign relations.
It is understood the publication date of the inquiry was discussed by the UK and American delegations when Cameron met Barack Obama at the White House last week. But the threat of a Commons vote will have added urgency to the issue.
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In June last year Chilcot announced he was satisfied that the “gist” of talks between Blair and Bush could be made public, removing a big obstacle to publication of his report. Chilcot is understood to have sent “Salmon letters” to those who were to be criticised to give them an opportunity to respond before the report’s publication, which will have led to further delays following objections from those criticised.
Blair previously said he wanted the Chilcot report to be published as soon as possible and that he resented claims he was to blame for its slow progress. He has made repeated attempts to justify the highly controversial invasion, but has conceded that, for a variety of reasons, including disputes in the Bush administration, the detail and quality of post-war planning was inadequate.
It is understood that Mr Cameron has written to Sir John saying that while he would have liked to have seen the report released before the election in May, he accepted that publication was a matter for the inquiry.
Earlier this month at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron spoke of his “immense frustration” at the continuing delays.
The disclosure that it will not now happen before polling day comes as MPs prepared to stage a Commons debate next week on the hold-ups.
Senior Tory backbencher David Davis, who was the driving force behind the staging of the debate, said that it was “incomprehensible” that it would have to wait until the next parliament.
“Frankly this is not good enough. It is more than five years since it started,” he told The Guardian.
“We need to know why. This is not simply some formality. This is for the whole country to understand why we made a terrible mistake in Iraq. Simply putting it off is not good enough.
“Why has this taken so long? What is going on that is preventing this? The report was created in the first place by a Labour government in order to get an understanding of what went wrong. I can think of no reason why this should be deferred.”
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