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UK/Iraq - Tony Benn interview

Iraq inquiry could be cover-up, says former MP

by Mark Rodden

Article published on the 2009-07-30 Latest update 2009-07-31 16:20 TU

Tony Benn(Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Stop the War Coalition</a>)

Tony Benn
(Photo: Stop the War Coalition)

A long-awaited inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war was launched on Thursday. Prominent left-winger and former MP Tony Benn wants to give evidence but fears it may be a cover-up.

Inquiry chair Sir John Chilcot said the Iraq inquiry would open as soon as possible but that it was unlikely to end until 2010 at the earliest.

He suggested some hearings could be televised or streamed online, although others would be held in private for national security reasons.

"The inquiry is not a court of law and nobody is on trial,” Chilcot said. “But I want to make something absolutely clear - the committee will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly."

Interview: former British MP Tony Benn

30/07/2009 by Mark Rodden

The inquiry will cover an eight-year period from 2001 to July 2009. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as the families of some of the 179 British soldiers who died in Iraq since 2003, are among those who will give evidence.

Former Labour MP and prominent anti-war campaigner Tony Benn, who met Saddam Hussein on two occasions, also hopes to give testimony. He said he hoped the inquiry would reveal exactly why Britain had invaded Iraq.

“The questions that we all want answered are simple,” Benn told RFI.  “First of all, when did Bush decide to invade Iraq? Secondly, when did he tell Blair he had decided to invade Iraq? Thirdly, when did Blair tell Bush that he would support him if he went to war with Iraq? And then when were the legal advisors to the government and cabinet told all this? Then people can assess whether the decision was right.”

The British government has already been criticised because the inquiry’s findings won’t be released before next year’s elections. Benn believes they should have been available before then so that people could make up their minds on the issue before casting their vote.

“They’ve deliberately turned this into a long, official history of our relations, which have got nothing to do with anything. What people want to know is why did we go to war and was it right? That is not secret at all. I’m very nervous that these officials who’ve been appointed will try and dodge that question.”

Two previous investigations surrounding Britain’s involvement in Iraq, the Hutton and Butler Inquiries, were termed a whitewash by critics. Benn is not too confident that the Chilcot Inquiry will be any different. 

“I think the best chance of preventing it becoming a cover-up and a whitewash is to put the inquiry itself into a position where they have to justify their role by whether they asked the key questions. And I’m not sure they will ask the key questions. And if they don’t, then the whole inquiry will be a waste of time.”

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