The Iraq War inquiry has taken too long to finish its work, Sir John Chilcot has said, as the head of the civil service admitted that rows with Government departments had delayed the publication of its report.
The chairman of the inquiry, which started in 2009 and was meant to report in 2010, said that the report had taken “longer than any of us expected would be necessary”.
The admission came as Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary, admitted that giving witnesses to the inquiry a right to reply to any criticism and wrangles with other departments has delayed its publication.
Sir John made the comments as he accepted an invitation to give evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the progress of the inquiry next week. MPs are also set to debate delays to the report on Thursday.
In a rare statement Sir John said: “My colleagues and I have served as members of this Inquiry longer than any of us expected would be necessary.
“But the Inquiry has been given the task of examining all of the significant aspects of the UK’s involvement in Iraq over a period of nine years.
“The issues the Inquiry is considering are complex and controversial. To ensure that the conclusions we reach are well-founded it is essential that our approach should be rigorous and comprehensive.
“We are conscious of our responsibility – to the public and to all those whose lives have been deeply affected by the events we are examining – to discharge our duty thoroughly, impartially and fairly.”
Sir John made clear that he would not “say anything about the substance of the inquiry’s work” to so he would not “anticipate the Inquiry’s ultimate findings” because any conclusions he “are necessarily provisional at this stage”.
Earlier in evidence to MPs, Sir Jeremy admitted he was “very frustrated” that the report had still not appeared.
Sir Jeremy suggested the delays to the report were made worse by the need to put all the criticisms to witnesses in the so-called “Maxwellisation” process.
Sir Jeremy said: “I am not saying that they are deliberately trying to delay it but in good faith they are no doubt considering what has been said about them and trying to reply within a reasonable period of time.”
He added: “There was a disagreement, a discussion between departments and the inquiry as to whether or not certain very sensitive documents, which previously would never have been contemplated for publication, should be published, as [Sir John Chilcot] wanted to.
“That issue came to me in line with the protocol that was agreed. And over a passage of weeks we resolved that.”
Sir Jeremy disclosed for the first time the 29 notes of conversations between Tony Blair and George W Bush will be published, but with mention of any third countries deleted.
He said that he was “absolutely” involved in discussing which Blair/Bush memos will be published – despite being a private secretary to Mr Blair at the time.
Sir Jeremy said the “Blair to Bush memos” would be published “in their entirety – the Blair side of the conversations with very, very few redactions”.
He added: “I have been trying to find a way through concern amongst the foreign office, the Americans, the security services, our lawyers on the one side and the inquiry on the other.”
Only a “very, very small number of redactions really about non-Iraq issues” have been made to the memos, such as references to other governments or the intelligence agencies.