by RAY FLEMING

THE Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War has now completed its third week of hearings. Many of the people involved in key decisions in 2002 and 2003 have given oral evidence. Journalists covering the hearings have complained that Sir John Chilcot treats the witnesses as old friends and that the atmosphere is of a few senior civil servants getting together to chat about old times. There is also criticism about the lack of a lawyer on the inquiry team to know how to press hard on questions that are not adequately answered or sidestepped.

In the past week Sir John Scarlett, who was head of the Joint Information Committee in 2001-2004 , gave evidence. Sir John “owned” the published dossier which said that Iraq forces could launch missiles within 45 minutes of being given the order - a claim which influenced a lot of opinion even though it was later discovered that, even if true, it did not apply to long distance missiles. Sir John said he regretted this “misunderstanding” but insisted that it was not in any way deliberate. Another witness was Sir John Sawers who was Britain's Special Representative in Baghdad immediately after the invasion. He was very critical of the US operation at the time, describing it as a “shambles” and saying that the US decision to dismiss all of Saddam Hussein's Baathist officials and disband the Iraq Army led to widespread administrative chaos.

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