Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Iraq War Inquiry - How Bloody Much?!

Tony Blair - smart casual

Tony Blair – smart casual

The Iraq Inquiry – aka The Chilcot Report (named after its chairman Sir John Chilcot) – into the Iraq War has finally released its costs for the year 2014/15. The bottom line however, is that since it’s inception under the Gordon Brown government, the inquiry has cost £10,375,000. Excellent. Money well spent. Not really. Not at all in fact.

The inquiry was set up with some simple, laudable aims. These are that, “This is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.”

Why is a free and open examination of why the UK embarked on an illegal war not a good thing? Let’s start with dates.

However, another of these aims it seems, is to use the tactic of kicking the can down the road (sometimes into the long grass) so that a lot of noise is made, a great deal of kicking and walking activity is seen but the can is never actually stopped, opened and its rancid contents shared out to all concerned.

Paranoid fantasy? I’ve been watching too much Sir Humphrey? I’m a cynic? Nope. The people over at (and also according to actual factuals) put the situation like so:

The first public hearing was held on Tuesday 24 November 2009. The last public hearing was held on Wednesday 2nd February 2011.

Yes, the last piece of evidence was taken by an inquiry that was set up in late 2009, was taken in early 2011. I’m notoriously appalling at maths, but even I realise that this means that we’ve been waiting for the preliminary findings for twice as long as the evidentiary period. Even safe-pair-of-hands, and Sir John Chilcot is finding it just a little bit wearing trying to explain away the delay. He recently wrote to the PM and stated:

‘I know that you, your colleagues, the Houses of Parliament, and many members of the public, including those who took part in operations in Iraq and the relatives of those who were killed or injured as a result, wish to read the Inquiry’s report and ensure that the lessons of the conflict are learned as soon as possible.

My colleagues and I wholeheartedly share that wish. We therefore intend to complete our task as quickly as possible in accordance with the processes necessary to ensure we deliver a report which will do justice to the gravity of the issues we have been examining.’

Sir John Chilcot - smart, very casual.

Sir John Chilcot – smart, very casual.

One criticism of this post could, of course, be that it always takes longer to understand evidence, write reports and reach consensus for publication than it does to actually collect that evidence. Fair criticism. As a former journalist I used to hate transcribing a 15 minute interview because that transcription came meant lots of time not writing or moving on to the next exiting subject: fact checking, rewinding, fast-forwarding, more fact checking, removing the “Ums” and the “Ahhs”; all time consuming and dull. I also used to write subtitles for television shows. Same thing. A 15 minute clip would take me more than an hour to prepare: four times as long.

But those processes were carried out by me. In the case of captioning a one hour show, well that would take about an hour an 15 minutes because we’d have four people taking 15 minute sections, with one editor to stitch everything together. I am imagine that Chilcot – with the weight, power and intellect of the Privy Council and its staff, and the staff of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council might be able to master the reporting process and even get some typing time in, let alone photocopying.

I’m not alone in assuming that the process might be able to move faster. The Guardian has reported the frustrations of former Brigadier Ben Barry with the sluggard pace:

Former brigadier Ben Barry, a specialist in land warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, whose last job before retiring from the army in 2010 was to lead an analysis of the lessons of the Iraq campaign, said everyone in the army “involved in Iraq finds the delay very frustrating”.

Barry said the length of time taken by Chilcot compared badly with a first world war report on the failings of the Gallipoli campaign – which took six months to compile in the middle of the war – and more recently, the Winograd report on Israel’s conduct of the 2006 Lebanon war.

Barry was particularly impressed with the Winograd inquiry, which began taking testimony in September 2006 and released preliminary findings in April 2007 that were sharply critical of the Israeli leadership.

Still, it’s only £10million and a can really. Unless your family member suffered, or you actually want to see democratic civilisation in action for more than the days leading up to a General Election.

You can see the costs yourself here

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The Iraq War Inquiry - How Bloody Much?!