The Chilcot story so far: a blame game with one politician in the frame

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Indy Politics

When Tony Blair finally appears before the Iraq inquiry on Friday, he may well find that the most damning accusations against him come from two unlikely sources. Civil servants blamed him for ignoring warnings about intelligence and post-war planning. But this week equally damaging revelations came from two of his most faithful allies.

Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary, defended Mr Blair's conduct in the months leading up to the war. However, he said that the former Prime Minister had blocked him from ordering crucial equipment, a decision which led to shortages of body armour, boots and specialist uniforms.

Admiral Lord Boyce, the ex-head of the Armed Forces, blamed Mr Hoon for the delays. But Mr Hoon said he was told "very clearly" by Mr Blair that secret military plans may become public if equipment was ordered too soon. "There was no doubt that we could not go out overtly and prepare," he said.

The evidence from the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, was even more revealing and could yet become the centre-piece of the inquiry team's interrogation of Mr Blair. The former Foreign Secretary said that he handed Mr Blair an alternative to allowing British troops to participate in an invasion of Iraq just weeks before military action was taken. He also told him that "regime change" could never be used as a legal justification for removing Saddam Hussein.

That testimony contradicted a recent interview by Mr Blair, a copy of which has been handed to the inquiry, in which he suggested he would have wanted to topple Saddam even if intelligence had not suggested that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Mr Blair's enthusiasm for regime change, the explicit policy of the Bush administration, is now set to be the main theme of his evidence on Friday.

Gordon Brown will also face awkward questions as a result of some of the revelations this week. The most senior official at the Treasury admitted cuts imposed in 2003 may have led to a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan today. The claim was confirmed yesterday by Sir Nicholas Macpherson, permanent secretary at the Treasury. He admitted that the Ministry of Defence had not been able to "spend as much as it would have liked" after it was penalised for exploiting changes in accounting rules.