British inquiry into Iraq war

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MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. Britain is revisiting one of the most divisive issues in its recent history. An independent panel will begin public hearings tomorrow into the country's role in the war in Iraq. It's the third time a government appointed panel has investigated circumstances surrounding the war and supporters say this inquiry will be the definitive one. But as The World's Laura Lynch reports others are already saying these hearings won't do much to shed light on Britain's decision to go to war.

LAURA LYNCH: From the day Sir John Chilcot took on the role as chair of the Iraq inquiry he's heard the accusation � it will be nothing more than a whitewash.

SIR JOHN CHILCOT: It won't be but the judgment is to whether people think it is and will lie on how it's read when it comes out.

LYNCH: Britain's decision to go to war in Iraq was and still is controversial. Then prime minister, Tony Blair, pushed ahead with the plan to send 45,000 troops despite widespread opposition and some claims that the war was illegal.

TONY BLAIR: This is not the time to falter. This is the time for this house � not just this government or indeed this prime minister � but for this house to give a lead. To show that we will stand up for what we know to be right. To show that we will confront the tyrannies and dictatorships and terrorists who put our way of life at risk.

LYNCH: Blair himself is expected to testify at the inquiry early next year. Other senior politicians, bureaucrats, military leaders, and intelligence officers will also be on the witness list. Sir John Chilcot insists the five-person panel, all appointed by the government, is ready to take on anyone including members of the government itself.

CHILCOT: What you can't do is make up a committee like this of people who have no experience of the workings of government from the inside. There is one other point worth making. When you set up an independent inquiry of this sort you set the members of it free to do what they will and our determination is to do not merely a thorough job but one that is frank and will bear public scrutiny.

LYNCH: Already though his inquiry is facing criticism. Carne Ross is a former British diplomat and an expert on Iraq who resigned after testifying at a previous inquiry. Ross reels off a list of problems with the current inquiry starting with the names on the witness lists.

CARNE ROSS: They're all the most senior people. These people were deeply implicated in having carried out the execution of the war. Why would they reveal an account at odds with the government's own narrative of what has happened. How will the panel get to that deeper truth of what took place here? What is the mechanism of accountability if dishonesty is uncovered or even God forbid illegality by certain members of the government?

LYNCH: That's also a concern for many of those who lost relatives in the Iraq war. Elsie Manning's daughter staff sergeant Sharon Elliott died in a bomb attack in 2006.

ELSIE MANNING: You know it's alright having these inquiries and for someone to sit at the other side of a desk and listen and write everything down but where does that leave us? Where does that leave the families? Where does it leave the soldiers who are serving now?

LYNCH: Manning and others want Tony Blair and his cabinet to answer for their decision to send British soldiers they believe was illegal. But they also worry that even if this inquiry confirms their belief it can only say that without punishing anyone for what happened in the past. For The World I'm Laura Lynch in London.