Blair angered by 'pre-judging' of Chilcot inquiry on Iraq war

  • @NigelpMorris

Tony Blair has expressed his irritation at the Iraq inquiry's preparing to deliver a damning verdict on his handling of the war.

The former prime minister faces criticism for not admitting to a secret agreement with President George Bush that Britain would join the invasion, and for claiming wrongly that Britain's intelligence showed "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blair is expected to come under fire for not involving the entire Cabinet in key decisions and for failing to prepare for the aftermath of the conflict, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Alastair Campbell, his former director of communications, is set to be criticised for "spinning" intelligence material ahead of the war. Mr Campbell declined to comment last night.

Although the report is not due to be published until the autumn, Whitehall sources confirmed that it was expected to reach tougher conclusions about the conduct of the war than earlier inquiries. The questioning by the five-member panel headed by Sir John Chilcot gave a clear indication of the direction of its investigation, they said.

A spokesman for Mr Blair, who appeared twice before the inquiry, said: "This is a deliberate attempt by the Mail on Sunday to pre-judge a report that hasn't even been written yet. We're not going comment until it has been published."

The interrogation of the former prime minister focused on the certainty with which he had asserted that Saddam had obtained deadly weapons, as well as the claim that Iraq could launch them within 45 minutes of an order.

The inquiry pursued details of a meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Bush at the president's Texan ranch in 2002 – a year before the war – in which they allegedly agreed secretly to theinvasion. Mr Blair denies the claim. There will also reportedly be criticism of the former prime minister's style of "sofa government", keeping the majority of his Cabinet in the dark over developments. Former ministers have also been questioned over the "obvious failings" in post-war planning.

Past judgements

Hutton inquiry (January 2004)

Concluded the dossier making the case for war had not been embellished by Downing Street, although Lord Hutton noted Alastair Campbell had told John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), he wanted it to be as strong as possible. JIC members could have been "subconsciously influenced" to use tougher language. Hutton did not pass judgement on the 45-minute claim.

Butler review (July 2004)

Said the dossier "went to, although not beyond, the outer limits of intelligence available". Mr Blair was wrong to present it as authoritative. The 45-minute claim should have been presented differently. Concerns raised over "informality" of the Blair administration, warning the "scope for informed collective political judgement" could have been reduced.