In 2003, Britain was led by the Labour Party with Conservative support into a war with Iraq which many people in our country believe was illegal.
It is why on the eve of the conflict a million people took to the streets to protest against the decision to send our troops into harm’s way without the backing of the United Nations.
The grim statistics resulting directly from that fateful decision are now, sadly, all too familiar.
Nearly 200 British service personnel killed. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians dead. Hundreds of thousands of families torn apart in the post-war chaos; and billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money spent.
But it important to remember that the conflict with Iraq is not ancient history. It is not some distant tragedy fought between past warring nations, led by romanticised characters from popular myth or legend.
The war in Iraq helps to explain the world today. You cannot begin to understand modern geopolitics without first understanding its intricacies and its aftermath. The legacy of the Iraqi conflict is Britain’s legacy too. Our country is less safe, less secure and less trusted in the Middle East because of it.
This makes the public inquiry into British and American invasion of Iraq so important. The British people, the wounded soldiers and their families, deserve to understand how the decision to go to war was made.
Six years after the independent inquiry was set up in 2009 by Gordon Brown – due to be published within 12 months – we are still waiting for answers. We have now been told Sir John Chilcot will not be reporting until after the General Election in May.
This is completely unacceptable for two reasons.
Firstly, the public, not just the million war protestors, and the thousands still affected by this terrible conflict have waited long enough. They need and deserve closure. They cannot move on if the decision to topple Baghdad is still shrouded in mystery.
Secondly, by delaying publication the electorate will not be able to hold to account those who took the decision to go to war at the ballot box until 2020, the date of the next General Election.
It means voters will have waited 17 years from the day British boots hit the ground in Iraq to be able to make a fully informed decision on the war, listening to all the evidence, and use it as a factor to decide who governs the country.
This is a democratic deficit - we should not stand for it. It is why the Liberal Democrats have launched a petition to call for the urgent publication of Sir John’s report. It the very least the public expect.
Whether it is the case or not, with every passing day there is a real danger the public will assume the report is being, as Nick Clegg has said, “sexed down” by individuals rebutting criticisms put to them by the inquiry.
David Cameron, the Conservative Party and, of course, Labour all voted for the Iraq War; and they all condemned the Liberal Democrats for opposing the invasion.
It is incomprehensible to the British public that such an important report should be delayed. The voters did not have a say on the decision to go to war in 2003. They must have their say now – 17 years is far too long.
Tim Farron is the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokespersonReuse content