Exclusive: US blocks publication of Chilcot’s report on how Britain went to war with Iraq

Department of State’s objection to release of key evidence may prevent  inquiry’s conclusions from ever being published, except in heavily redacted form

Political Correspondent

Washington is playing the lead role in delaying the publication of the long-awaited report into how Britain went to  war with Iraq, The Independent has learnt.

Although the Cabinet Office has been under fire for stalling the progress of the four-year Iraq Inquiry by Sir John Chilcot, senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall indicated that it is officials in the White House and the US Department of State who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre- and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Without permission from the US government, David Cameron faces the politically embarrassing situation of having to block evidence, on Washington’s orders, from being included in the report of an expensive and lengthy British inquiry.

Earlier this year, The Independent revealed that early drafts of the report challenged the official version of events leading up to the Iraq war, which saw Mr Blair send in 45,000 troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The protected documents relating to the Bush-Blair exchanges are said to provide crucial evidence for already-written passages that are highly critical of the covert way in which Mr Blair committed British troops to the US-led invasion.

One high-placed diplomatic source said: “The US are highly possessive when documents relate to the presence of the President or anyone close to him. Tony Blair is involved in a dialogue in many of these documents, and naturally someone else is at the other end – the President. Therefore this is not Tony Blair’s or the UK Government’s property to disclose.”

The source was adamant that “Chilcot, or anyone in London, does not decide what documents relating to a US President are published”.

Last week, Chilcot sent Downing Street an update on his inquiry’s progress which explained his continuing inability to set a publication date. He described difficult discussions with the Government on the disclosure of material he wanted to include in his report, or publish alongside it.

He said that over the past six months, he had submitted requests that covered 200 cabinet-level discussions, a cache of notes from Mr Blair to Mr Bush, and more than 130 records of conversations between any two of Mr Blair, Gordon Brown and the White House. Mr Cameron was informed that the inquiry and the Cabinet Office had “not yet reached a final position” on the documents.

Although the Prime Minister told Chilcot in a letter last week that some documents needed to be “handled sensitively”, the Cabinet Office decoded the Prime Minister’s phrases yesterday, telling The Independent: “It is in the public’s interests that exchanges between the UK Prime Minister and the US President are privileged. The whole premise about withholding them [from publication] is to ensure that we do not prejudice our relations with the United States.”

The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has been widely criticised as the senior civil servant responsible for blocking the delivery of material to the inquiry. Sir Menzies Campbell, who as the Liberal Democrats’ foreign-affairs spokesman was a high-profile opponent of the war, has described the delays as “intolerable”, adding: “The full story need[s] to be told.”

The former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen has called for Sir Jeremy to be stripped of his role in deciding which documents are released to the inquiry. However, the Cabinet Office said yesterday that Sir Jeremy was merely upholding a previous decision taken by his predecessor, Lord O’Donnell, which emphasised the importance of privacy in communications between Downing Street and the White House.

Chilcot, a former diplomat who previously investigated intelligence on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction as part of the Butler Review, heads an inquiry team that comprises Sir Roderic Lyne, the former UK ambassador to Russia; Sir Lawrence Freedman, the professor of war studies at King’s College London; and Baroness Prashar, a former member of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Another member of the inquiry team, the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, has been ill and has had limited input into its recent deliberations.

The authors are facing difficult choices forced on them by Washington and the Cabinet Office’s desire not to upset the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the US. They may deliver a neutered report in spring next year which would effectively absolve Mr Blair of any serious policy failures – because there would be no clear evidence contained in the report to back up such direct criticism. Another possibility is that the report will be so heavily redacted as to be rendered meaningless and hence a waste of almost £8m of British taxpayers’ money.

Since the Iraq Inquiry was launched in 2009 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, covert back-channel communications between the Cabinet Office and its counterparts in Washington have focused on the diplomatic convention that the disclosure of “privileged channels of communication” should remain at all times protected.

The final report is supposed to examine how the Blair government took decisions and what lessons can be learnt to “help ensure that if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond”.

Dr James Strong, a foreign-policy analyst at the London School of Economics, said: “All governments like to keep their secrets secret. The US is no exception. As its response to WikiLeaks suggested, the US defines a secret in terms of the type of document rather than the contents. So regardless of what these particular documents say, the US probably wouldn’t want them published, because governments normally keep private exchanges between leaders private.”

The US State Department declined to comment. Tonight, the Cabinet Office denied that the US had a veto on the issue, adding: “These issues are being worked through in good faith and with a view to reaching a position as rapidly as possible.”

In numbers: The Iraq war

179 British service personnel killed in Iraq

500,000 War related Iraqi deaths caused by the war to June 2011, according to 2013 PLOS Medicine study

1,569 Days since the Iraq Inquiry opened on 29 July 2009

35 Witnesses heard in private by Sir John Chilcot’s team

1,000,000+ Total length in words of the Iraq Inquiry report

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes