Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Blair faces Iraq probe next year

Tony Blair
Tony Blair will be called to give evidence early next year

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to be called to give evidence to the Iraq War inquiry early next year.

He will be among senior Labour figures to be publicly grilled just months ahead of an expected general election.

Mr Blair and the others may be quizzed again in more detail, but that will not happen until after the election, which must take place by June.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot has said his report will be published at the end of next year, or even 2011.

In a statement, Sir John said the first five weeks of public evidence sessions, which will begin on 24 November, will hear from senior officials and military officers.

"We will ask them to explain the main decisions and tasks, and their involvement," he said.

"That will give us a clear understanding of how policy developed and was implemented, and what consideration was given to alternative approaches."

'Face-to-face'

Ministers, including Mr Blair, will be called in January and early February.

It is not for us to make findings of guilt or innocence - only a court can do that
Sir John Chilcot

The parents of soldiers killed in Iraq have already warned that they intend to confront Mr Blair at the hearings.

At a pre-hearing last month, Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was among the soldiers killed in the war, said the families wanted to be "face-to-face" with the former prime minister.

The first round of public hearings will be followed by private meetings and analysis before a further round of public sessions in mid-2010.

"In some cases, those hearings will be used to invite witnesses to discuss issues in more detail than in earlier evidence, or to pursue further lines of inquiry," Sir John said.

He added that the inquiry would seek first-hand accounts on the "thematic issues" that need addressing during its initial phase.

These issues would include equipment, personnel, the "key decisions taken and their rationale", the legal basis for military action, policy and communication, said Sir John.

'Open as possible'

He said the committee would be "thorough, rigorous, fair and frank", but added that "no-one is on trial".

"It is not for us to make findings of guilt or innocence - only a court can do that," he said.

"I have, however, made clear that we will not shy away in our report from making criticisms - of individuals or systems - where that is warranted."

When he launched the inquiry he said it would be "as open as possible" with hearings televised and streamed online.

But he said some hearings would be held in private for national security reasons or to allow "more candour".

He has said he does not expect anyone to refuse a request to give evidence.

The inquiry will cover the entire eight-year period from the build-up to the war to the withdrawal of British troops - from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009.



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