Adrian Hamilton: This exercise won't even ask the hard questions

Related Topics

The invasion of Iraq, as Tony Blair now accepts in private, is the great cloud that lours over his premiership and the New Labour Government, despite every effort to push it into the margins of history. It was the most divisive issue of a generation, and perhaps more, which could find no resolution either in the regimented debates of Parliament or two successive inquiries, by Lord Hutton into the death of Dr David Kelly and by Lord Butler into the use of intelligence.

Did the Prime Minister commit his country to war in a complicit deal with President Bush even before the debates in the UN took place? Did he mislead the public over the reasons for war and the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction? Was he advised that the war was illegal under international law? These and other questions about the invasion and the conduct of the occupation afterwards continue to dog the politics of this country, as much because of the unsatiated anger that we went to war so casually and pursued the aftermath so badly, as due to doubts over the causes.

Will the long-awaited "independent" inquiry announced by Gordon Brown yesterday help to achieve "closure", to use the fashionable phrase? You'd have to be extremely optimistic, or naive, to believe so. This is not an exercise designed to reconciliate divided views or a means of establishing the truth in a comprehensive way that can satisfy the opponents of the war.

Its hearings are to be held in private. Its completion has been scheduled for beyond the next election. Its terms of reference – to "learn the lessons of the complex and often controversial events of the last six years'' – are drawn so broadly as to guarantee a report submerged in generalities. Add to that a committee made up of two knighted historians, a Labour-created peer and a former ambassador, which is headed by a former civil servant, Sir John Chilcot, who has spent much of his career handling the police and intelligence, and the one thing you can be certain of is that it won't ask, let alone answer, the hard questions.

The Government did the same thing with Lord Huttonand Lord Butler. It's not that the Government thought they would do its bidding, any more than Sir John Chilcot will. It's just that they knew they would always step back from what was challenging.

The inquiry, said the Prime Minister announcing it yesterday, "does not aim to apportion blame". You bet your life it doesn't. Blame is the last thing that ministers, or Tory front-benchers, want bandied around to their detriment. Gordon Brown went along with the war, as did the rest of the Cabinet with one notable exception in Robin Cook (plus John Denham, then a minister of state). Brown kept quiet at the time but seems to have been responsible for persuading Robin Cook to resign before the debate on the war instead of on the day, and to have dissuaded Clare Short from resigning at all – decisions that drew much of the sting from the opposition to the war.

The aim of this is inquiry, said Brown yesterday, is to do exactly what Lord Franks did in his report into the Falklands War. Then the establishment chose a "distinguished public servant" to carry out an investigation in private, which produced a report full of damning evidence but concluded with what was generally dismissed as a complete whitewash. And that report, it should be remembered, was about a war that had the broad approval of the British public and ended with a clear victory.

The invasion of Iraq did not have full public support, it has not ended in victory and it is impossible to deal with the questions it poses without apportioning blame. This inquiry is a classic establishment exercise in driving a thorny subject into the long grass – par for the course, yes; predictable, no doubt; but nonetheless an insult to the public and to Parliament for all that.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Planner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They make daily deliveries to most foodservice...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - C#, ASP.Net, MVC, jQuery

£42000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a C# ...

Recruitment Genius: General Driver - Automotive

£15500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

Day In a Page

Read Next

New York's LaGuardia Airport to be rebuilt: It could become the best gateway to America

Simon Calder
An easy target: the wild red grouse - which lives in the heather-clad hills of the British uplands - is managed not for conservation but for the unsavoury pleasure of City types  

Nature Studies: Campaigners are taking aim at grouse shooting, and they're spot on

Michael McCarthy
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food