When Gordon Brown announced the Chilcot Inquiry to the House in 2009, he said it would take a year to complete. He was roundly mocked by the opposition benches. Time has proven those Tories spot on; here we are, six years later, with not only no final report but nothing in sight in terms of a solid deadline for release.
The Iraq War was a bad idea. Some of us thought so back in 2003 because we figured that starting a war where there was none, one that would almost certainly unbalance Shia-Sunni relations in the Middle East in a best case scenario anyhow wasn’t a brilliant plan. Others didn’t think the West should be intervening anywhere, everywhere. Regardless, Iraq now looks and feels like a mistake to most Britons. Which is why Brown presumably called for Chilcot in 2009; let’s get it all out in the open and seal the wound forever. A way to bring an unfortunate chapter of British history to a close.
But the Inquiry has had the precise opposite effect. Because it continues to drag on, it allows Iraq to be brought up every now and then as fresh news. Like today, when a group of families of soldiers who were killed in Iraq have threatened to sue Sir John Chilcot himself. When Brown announced the review six years ago, such a possibility must have been well beyond a worst, worst case outcome. Instead of consigning the Iraq War to comfortably distant history, it has allowed the whole episode to fester in the collective consciousness of the country.
It’s even now worth asking whether the results of the Inquiry will ever actually see the day. It’s one of those impossible scenarios: it sort of has to come out now, just for the sanity of the nation; yet at the same time, I find it extremely difficult to imagine it being released. I suppose as a result we’ll end up with a half way house of some sort – a kind of fudged version of what really happened that reveals nothing new. Which may well be the worst possible outcome of all.
Brown should never have set up Chilcot; the political establishment wasn’t and still isn’t ready to talk about the nitty gritty of how Britain ended up directly involved in a prolonged military incursion into Iraq. Given that, one has to wonder what sort of closure, if any, the Chilcot Inquiry results could ever bring to anyone. If it ever sees the light of day, of course.