Iraq Committee of Enquiry

Tue, Nov 17, 2009

foreign policy

June 2009


The terms of reference for the committee of enquiry will be to examine and report on UK government policy and its implementation in Iraq from UNSCR 1441 in -summer of 2001 to the present day. Its main purpose is to provide a full assessment of British involvement in Iraq over this period, to learn lessons for the future.


A committee comprised of Privy Councillors will shortly be appointed with a non-political chairman.  The members of the committee will be from non-political backgrounds following consultation with Opposition parties (biographical details below). It is essential that if the right lessons are to be learned then the committee must be impartial and free to operate without political involvement. The committee will be chaired by a senior retired civil servant.


The committee will follow the procedural precedent of the Franks enquiry of 1983 which reported on the Falklands conflict of the previous year, and which is viewed as a model of its kind. 


The committee will begin work as soon as possible with a requirement to report within one year.


The government will cooperate fully with the enquiry committee.


The committee will sit in private – along the lines of the Franks enquiry. It is vital that the committee have access to all government papers, including secret papers, and those of allies, and is able to call witnesses to give evidence, and this means that the majority of its work must be in private. If witnesses cannot speak freely and fearlessly we cannot draw the right conclusions for the future.


The final report will be laid down in the House, but classified and sensitive material will be redacted.


The scope of the enquiry is as full as possible – all of British involvement in Iraq from summer 2009 to the present day. In this sense, it is a more wide-ranging, less constrained enquiry than Franks. The committee will take into account in its findings the evidence and conclusions of previous enquiries but will not seek to re-open the conclusions of these inquiries. [


The object of the enquiry is simple: to identify lessons to be learned. The committee will not aim or be empowered to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability.


The government has maintained that it would be inappropriate to conduct an enquiry while combat operations were under way. The combat mission ended on 30 April 2009, and the last combat troops are in the process of leaving Iraq, leaving only a contingent of 100 for training purposes. The timing is now right to begin the enquiry consistent with the pledge made by the Foreign Secretary in the debate on 26 March 2009. We could technically have waited for the announcement until the complete drawdown of troops by the end of July. However, since combat operations are now over, and the process of final drawdown is well under way, we decided that the committee should begin its work as soon as is practically possible, before the summer recess, so the announcement of the enquiry has been brought forward.


The Franks enquiry conducted after the Falklands conflict will act as precedent. The advantage of a Privy Council enquiry lies in witnesses being able to attend without lawyers. The Franks enquiry was notable for being able to do its work effectively and to time without the release of interim findings, without leaks order brand viagra or briefings and without the distraction of daily news stories during the enquiry. For this reason, it would be preferable to conduct the enquiry in camera, although the precise structure and format of the enquiry will be decided in cross-party parliamentary consultations. A Franks-style Inquiry has merit in that private sessions would allow full access to relevant material, and that witnesses would not require lawyers as would be the case in a judicial inquiry. If witnesses cannot speak freely and fearlessly we cannot draw the right conclusions for future situations.


The Franks enquiry reported in six months and was restricted to the period before the Argentinean invasion. The Iraq enquiry is far more wide-ranging, covering the periods before, during and after the conflict.


William Hague has called for a Franks-style enquiry.


Why not a public enquiry?


The key objective of the Inquiry will be to identify lessons learned.  This requires access to a wide range of highly sensitive information, and witnesses who can speak frankly.  This was the model adopted by the Franks enquiry in 1983 set up by the Conservative Government following the Falklands War. We want a thorough Inquiry to produce timely recommendations to help future Government policy.  The Cabinet Secretary’s advice is that the best way to ensure this is through a Privy Council Inquiry. A Public Inquiry would be less likely to identify lessons learned, would take longer and would be far more complex as the Bloody Sunday Inquiry demonstrates.



17 June – Letter from the Prime Minister to the Chair of the Iraq Enquiry – Sir John Chilcot GCB



Dear Sir John


I would like to thank you for agreeing to Chair the Iraq Inquiry As I said in Parliament, I believe this Inquiry will, through lessons learned, strengthen our diplomacy, our military and our democracy I am fully committed to a thorough and independent inquiry, and guarantee the full co-operation of the Government As Privy Counsellors, you will have unhindered access to government documents. I have written to all relevant current and former Ministers to underline the importance of their full cooperation. And the Cabinet Secretary is writing to departments to underline the need for full transparency,


It is essential that all those appearing before the Inquiry do so with the greatest possible candour and openness, and that the Inquiry itself proceeds as efficiently as possible, while maintaining full public confidence in the integrity of the process and without in any way damaging national security Once you have met, as I have suggested, the Leaders of the other political parties and the Chairs of the relevant parliamentary Select Committees it would be helpful if you could set out how you and your colleagues think these objectives can best be met in the way that the Inquiry is conducted.


I hope as part of this that you will consider whether it is possible for there to be a process whereby they give their contributions on oath. It is also essential that the families of those who gave their lives in Iraq are properly consulted on the nature of the inquiry. I hope therefore that you will be able to meet them as part of the preparations and as you continue your work, to explain how you are proceeding. This could be, at their request, in public or private


Once you have established your plans in more detail, I would

encourage you to hold an open session to explain in greater depth the significant scope and breadth of the inquiry.


I wish you and your Committee well with your important task, and

look forward to your conclusions.



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