Tony Blair to be cross-examined in public at inquiry into Iraq war


Plans for Tony Blair and other key figures behind the Iraq war to be grilled over their actions were being unveiled today.

Sir John Chilcot, the head of the official inquiry into the 2003 invasion, was expected to give assurances that many of the sessions will be held in public.

It is likely to be at least a year before the report's final conclusions - making it too late to influence a general election.

Between 2003 and 2009, 179 British service personnel were killed in Iraq. Sir John, an intelligence expert, heads a five-strong panel examining the build-up to the 2003 war and its aftermath. It is expected to focus on the eight years from the 9/11 atrocities in 2001 to July 2009, covering the invasion, the use of intelligence and the occupation.

A senior Labour MP called for it to be extended to cover events stretching back as far as 1992, when the Tories were in power.

Mike Gapes, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said: "You cannot look at the period just after 9/11 in 2001. You need to go back to the context and that includes when we were bombing Iraq in 1998 and the 12 years of sanctions that led up to the conflict in 2003." Opposition MPs fear a long timescale would delay the inquiry's conclusions and might postpone the most controversial evidence sessions, such as Mr Blair's, until after the general election, expected in May.

The Government has already been accused of trying to nobble the inquiry. The Prime Minister at first said it should be held in private and could not say who was to blame for errors. In addition, witnesses would not give evidence under oath.

After a scornful outcry from military figures, Mr Brown backed down and Sir John said he would hold as many meetings as possible in public. He also looked into ways to put witnesses under a form of "oath".