1. Tony Blair
Critics claim that the former prime minister (1997-2007) consciously exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction; that he misled the Cabinet into backing a war to which he had already committed Britain in a private agreement with President Bush; and that he wilfully ignored initial legal advice that such a war would be illegal. Blair continues to deny such charges vigorously, and only the publication of Sir John Chilcot’s report will resolve some of the detailed evidential questions. It is harder for Blair to refute the charge that, irrespective of the detail, his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq was a disastrous misjudgement.
2. Sir John Scarlett
Critics claim that the then chair of the Cabinet Office Joint Intelligence Committee was influenced by political pressures from Number 10, allowing Alastair Campbell to influence his drafting of the controversial “September Dossier” of 2002. More recently, the disclosure of a memo in which Sir John referred to “the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional” has cast further doubt on the objectivity of his advice.
3. Sir Jeremy Heywood
As the prime minister’s principal private secretary (1999-2003), Sir Jeremy may find himself implicated in criticisms of the style of “sofa government” that developed during the Blair premiership – arguably weakening the power of the Cabinet to moderate rash policy-making. Sir Jeremy has also been criticised in his current role as Cabinet Secretary, in which capacity he has been involved in protracted arguments about the publication of confidential documents relating to the Chilcot inquiry.
The Iraq War: A timeline
The Iraq War: A timeline
1/16 11 September 2001
Terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda use hijacked aeroplanes to kill 2,996 people in attacks on the east coast of the US.
2/16 12 September 2001
Tony Blair promises George W Bush that the UK will support the US, whatever the President decides to do.
3/16 25 March 2002
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, warns Blair that invading Iraq would be legally dubious.
4/16 June 2002
Tony Blair asks defence officials to outline options for UK participation in military action against Iraq.
5/16 24 September 2002
The government publishes a dossier about the threat from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. A foreword by Tony Blair states that Saddam Hussein’s “military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them”. It is subsequently alleged that this dossier was “sexed up” for political reasons.
6/16 2 October 2002
Congress authorises President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
7/16 8 November 2002
UN Security Council passes resolution 1441, insisting that weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq and calling on the regime to give up its WMD or face the consequences.
8/16 18 July 2003
David Kelly, an expert in biological warfare, is found dead after being named as the source of quotations used by the BBC’s Andrew Gilligan to suggest that the dossier of September 2002 had been “sexed up”. Lord Hutton is appointed to chair a judicial inquiry into his death.
9/16 13 December 2003
Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, after nine months in hiding.
10/16 2 March 2004
Bombings in Baghdad and Karbala kill nearly 200 people: the worst attacks since the fall of Saddam.
11/16 14 September 2005
Bombs in Baghdad kill 160 people and injure more than 500.
12/16 30 December 2005
Saddam Hussein is executed.
13/16 28 May 2009
The last British combat troops leave Iraq.
14/16 24 November 2009
The Chilcot inquiry holds its first public hearing.
15/16 2 February 2011
The Chilcot inquiry holds its final public hearing.
16/16 21 January 2015
Sir John Chilcot confirms that his report will not be published before the general election in May 2015.
4. Jack Straw
The former Foreign Secretary (2001-2006) admitted to the inquiry in 2010 that he had supported the decision to attack Iraq “very reluctantly”. He expressed “deep regret” about the war, and acknowledged that he could have forced Blair to reconsider, had he refused to support it. The inquiry also heard that Straw refused to accept advice from Sir Michael Wood, a legal adviser at the Foreign Office, that to attack Iraq without Security Council authority “would amount to a crime of aggression”.
5. Sir Richard Dearlove
As head of MI6 from 1999 to 2004, Sir Richard has obvious questions to answer about the way in which doubtful intelligence was presented as fact. Sir Richard has admitted (in 2002) that, in the US, “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”, but the 2004 Butler Review did not pursue this. Sir Richard is understood to have prepared his own account of events, with which to “put the record straight” should he feel unfairly treated by Chilcot.
6. Lord Goldsmith
Questions continue to be asked as to what could have induced the former Attorney General (2001-2007) to change his view on the legality of war just days before the invasion of Iraq. Over the previous year, he had consistently opposed an invasion without a further UN resolution. In evidence to the Inquiry, he cited “a combination” of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s then ambassador to the UN; Jack Straw; and US officials including George W Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, as having persuaded him to alter his position. Tony Blair told Chilcot: “If [Lord Goldsmith] had said ‘This would not be justified lawfully’, we would have been unable to take action.”
7. Geoff Hoon
The Secretary of State for Defence (1999-2005) has been repeatedly criticised for shortcomings in the supply of equipment to British forces. Lord Boyce, the former chief of defence staff, has claimed that, in the run-up to war, he was “prevented” by Hoon from speaking to the chief of defence logistics, “because of the concern of it becoming public knowledge that we were planning for a military contribution”. Hoon has also been blamed for failing to clarify to the media that the “45-minute claim” in the September dossier, referring to deployment of WMDs, referred only to battlefield weapons.
8. Alastair Campbell
Widely portrayed as the villain of the Iraq debacle, the former Number 10 director of communications (1997-2003) has continued to insist he did nothing wrong. Campbell denied to Chilcot that the purpose of the September 2002 dossier was “to make the case for war”. Subsequent testimony submitted by Major-General Michael Laurie claimed that Campbell’s evidence was inaccurate.
9. Sir David Manning
Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser between 2001 and 2003, Sir David was present at meetings in June 2002 and January 2003 in which Bush and Blair drew up secret plans for the invasion of Iraq. In evidence to Chilcot, he referred to meetings in Washington in July and August 2002 but said he did not conclude there was a significant likelihood of military action until “much later”. He was not asked about the “Downing Street Memo” of 23 July 2002, about a meeting he attended with Tony Blair, which stated: “Military action was now seen as inevitable.”
After six years and nearly £9m, the report of Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war remains unpublished – and, we were told this week, will not be published this side of the general election.
Will the British public ever be told the truth about a conflict that millions of them opposed, whose lethal fallout can still be felt across the world today? In the absence of an official account, this series of articles – based on evidence given to the inquiry and other accounts that are already in the public domain – is an attempt to set down in writing, as objectively as possible, the known facts and unresolved questions of one of the most bitterly controversial episodes in recent British history.