So, after six years, four months, and around £10 million [$15 million] of taxpayer's cash, a vague timetable for the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry—the "independent investigation" into the Iraq War fuck-up—has finally been announced for summer next year. If you're experiencing a sudden wave of deja vu, chill out, so is everyone else. If you're experiencing a rush of excitement and expectation, maybe put that to one side. Though no fixed date for the report's publication has ever really been given—including this time—the Inquiry will always be remembered for its endless string of delays, postponements, excuses, and blame shifting.
Back in 2009 things did look different. Just a few days after Gordon Brown announced the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot—the former civil servant mandarin tasked with chairing it—suggested "late 2010" was a viable date for publication. And it seemed reasonable. By then the tide had fully turned against Blair and everyone, except the most deranged neocon ideologues, realized what a colossal error the Iraq War had been. What was there to prove?
But here we are—12 years after the war began—with another vague date and still no report. It's dragged on for so long one of the Inquiry's four panel members—Sir Martin Gilbert—popped his clogs, the parents of dead soldiers have been threatening legal action, and many of those looking for answers now smell an establishment cover-up. So why the delays and who's to blame? Did the dog eat John Chilcot's homework or have a cabal of dangerous, powerful, pig-fuckers been conspiring against us once again? Here's a short history of a very long, very slow affair:
JUNE 19, 2009: INQUIRY IS ANNOUNCED
Just over a month after British troops finally left Iraq, with over 100,000 already dead, a short-tempered, unloved Scottish bloke in charge of the country announced a new investigation into the biggest foreign policy disaster of post-war Britain. After the failure of the 2004 Butler Enquiry into Iraq intelligence, which Chilcot sat on, it was time to get answers. The new Inquiry would be "unprecedented" in scope, covering the two-year period before the war, the war itself, and the aftermath.
NOVEMBER 24, 2009: PUBLIC HEARINGS GET UNDERWAY BUT LAST FOR AGES AND AGES
Having spent the summer reviewing government documents and speaking to the families of British service personnel killed in service, the first public hearing began on a cold Tuesday morning in November. In front of Chilcot a clutch of intelligence bigwigs gave evidence as protesters and relatives of the dead gathered outside.
Chilcot had previously suggested "late 2010" was the "earliest possible date" for publication but it wasn't until February 2, 2011 that the public hearings were concluded with Jack Straw, Blair's Foreign Secretary during the war, the final witness.
By this stage Chilcot refused to set an "artificial deadline" for when the report might be published, instead saying it would take "some months." With 150 witnesses and 150,000 government documents seen by the Inquiry in its first year it seemed like Chilcot might have slightly underestimated the scope and complexity of the task he was supposed to be leading.
JANUARY 18, 2011: WRANGLINGS OVER SECRET PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN BLAIR AND BUSH BEGIN
Just three days before Blair's second cross-examination as a witness at the Inquiry, Chilcot released a series of letters he'd been sending then Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell. The letters concerned the publication of classified documents involving conversations between Blair and Bush in the run up to the war. O'Donnell claimed releasing the notes would be against the public's interest and would cause diplomatic problems between Britain and the US. Chilcot claimed the secret documents illuminated "prime minister Blair's positions at critical points" and needed to be published. Some blamed the Cabinet, others blamed Blair who could have allowed the documents to be disclosed. Either way, the tug-of-war went on and on and on. Later that year, on November 17, Chilcot admitted the report would be delayed by another six months, saying the summer of 2012 would be the earliest it could be expected. Another hilarious understatement.
2012-2013: WRANGLINGS OVER SECRET PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS CONTINUE AS THE WHITE HOUSE BLAMED FOR DELAYS
As the summer arrived and pre-Olympics bunting sprouted out the ground, the same problems persisted for Chilcot. On the July 16, 2012 the aging mandarin sent a letter to David Cameron saying the report now wouldn't be published until 2013, a full ten years after the "shock-and-awe" bombing of Baghdad first began.
The following year, in a statement published on the Inquiry's website, Chilcot revealed ten separate attempts to procure "cabinet-level discussions" and personal communications between Blair to Bush had failed as O'Donnell's successor, Jeremy Heywood—nicknamed "Sir Cover Up"—also refused to relent. The Independent published a report claiming the White House was responsible for the delays after refusing to sanction the declassification of the Blair-Bush communications. The Cabinet Office responded saying the US had no veto over the disclosure of the documents. The saga continued.
MAY 29, 2014: AGREEMENT FINALLY MADE TO PUBLISH "GIST" OF CONVERSATIONS
Finally, after three years of dispute, an agreement was reached to publish the "gist" of the exchanges between Downing Street and the White House. Full details of what was said were to be kept secret though and Bush's views were not to be included. Having waited for years, a lot of people were pissed off they wouldn't be able to see the communications in full and called it a whitewash. "The establishment of this country, and the security and intelligence services have won again. Truth has lost out," Andrew MacKinlay, a former Labour MP said at the time. On the bright side, with the agreement made, the report could finally, definitely, hopefully be expected by the end of the year. Right?
JANUARY 20, 2015: PUBLICATION Is DELAYED AGAIN UNTIL AFTER GENERAL ELECTION BECAUSE OF SOMETHING CALLED "MAXWELLISATION"
On January 20, another major delay was announced as a beleaguered Chilcot said the report would not appear before the general election on May 7—much to the chagrin of Cameron who probably quite liked the idea of Labour's catastrophic foreign policy failure landing on the lap of Ed Miliband in the run up to the vote.
This time Chilcot blamed "the Maxwellisation Process"—which sounds like some kind of posh initiation ritual but is in fact a procedure where those criticized in an official report are shown its claims ahead of publication and are invited to respond. The Guardian reported the scope of the Inquiry had broadened well beyond Blair's inner circle, meaning more people were in the firing line and more people required contacting.
Chilcot maintained the importance of being fair to everyone criticized but others suspected the "Maxwelles" were deliberately trying to drag out the process, particularly Blair, who for some strange reason got singled out despite claiming he had "absolutely and emphatically" nothing to do with it. To be fair the man did have a busy schedule that year advising Saudi oil companies and doing PR for various dictators.
It wasn't until September 9 last month in a letter to Crispin Blunt, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that Chilcot said he had received the last of the responses and was ready to start evaluating them.
Over on Thump: An Illustrated Guide to the Five Clubbers from Hell
OCTOBER 28, 2015: NEW VAGUE TIMETABLE FOR PUBLICATION IS SET, MORE PEOPLE ARE PISSED OFF
Finally in a letter to the Prime Minister published yesterday on the Inquiry's website, Chilcot said his horrifyingly long, two million word report would be completed by April 18 next year and published one or two months later once a "national security check" had been conducted. If Chilcot expected a pat on the back though, he was sadly mistaken. In a letter sent back Cameron said he was "disappointed" at the latest delay, Corbyn called it "beyond ridiculous" and the mother of a British soldier killed in Iraq said it was "another let-down."
In the end we probably don't need to wait until next summer to find out the truth about the Iraq War. Much of the Inquiry's evidence is already available and much is already known about the lies and exaggerations behind its justification as well as the commitments Blair had already made by the time the case was made. Nor do we really need a document almost three times the length of War and Peace to confirm the obvious failure of the Iraq War's architects to comprehend what radically altering the region's power balance might mean. But still, for the sake of the families demanding it, and for the millions of pounds already spent, it would be good, at long last, to finally hear what Chilcot has to say.
Follow Philip on Twitter.