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Tony Blair to Testify at British Iraq War Inquiry

By Sonja Pace
London
30 July 2009

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is among those expected to testify at a new inquiry into the government's involvement in the Iraq war. The workings of that inquiry were formally outlined in London.

The scope is broad: British involvement from the summer of 2001 to the present.

Heading the inquiry panel is former senior civil servant, John Chilcot.

"We will therefore be considering the United Kingdom's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken to establish as accurately and reliably as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned," he explained.

Chilcot said the panel would request testimony from senior officials involved in the decision making of the time, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair's strong backing of the American decision to go to war and his decision to send 45,000 British troops to Iraq to participate in the U.S. led invasion sparked mass protests at home. Critics accused his government of distorting intelligence information to justify the war.

John Chilcot said his committee wants to hold discussions on a broad basis and that should include decision-makers in the United States and elsewhere. But, he quickly added a caveat.

"Of course we have no power to compel witnesses here let alone people in foreign governments," he said.

Chilcot said the inquiry panel is not a court of law, but its investigation would be thorough, impartial and frank.

"This committee will not shy away from making criticisms. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues that could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly," he said.

Chilcot said as much of the inquiry as possible would be public and some of the hearings could be televised or streamed live on the internet.

The government had initially said the hearings would be in private, but later relented amid criticism of a potential cover up.

Britain has held several previous hearings into various specific elements of the Iraq war. This inquiry is to be the most comprehensive.

Britain has withdrawn all combat forces from Iraq and has only a small contingent left in the country for training purposes; 179 British troops have died in Iraq.



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