LONDON // The former British prime minister Tony Blair will be asked to testify to a panel investigating the Iraq war, the head of the inquiry said today. The former civil servant John Chilcot said the inquiry, set up by the current prime minister Gordon Brown, would look at British involvement in the war, covering the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July this year. "The people we invite to give evidence will be those we judge ... are best placed to supply the information we need to conduct our task thoroughly," the inquiry chairman told a news conference.
"That will, of course, include the former prime minister and other senior figures involved in decision taking," he added. In 2003 the decision by Mr Blair, who is now the UN Quartet's Middle East peace envoy, to send 45,000 troops to join the US-led invasion to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein provoked massive anti-war protests in London and the resignations of ministers. The coalition accused Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, but none were found. Critics of the war accused Mr Blair's government of distorting intelligence on the threat posed by Saddam's regime to justify the invasion.
Mr Chilcot said the panel wanted to ensure the inquiry was as open as possible, so the public could have confidence in its independence. He said some of the public hearings could be televised or streamed live on the internet to allow as many people as possible to see them. Transcripts of hearings will be posted on a public website. The hearings were initially intended to be held in private. After accusations of a cover-up, Mr Brown's office later said it believed it would be able to hold some sessions in public without compromising national security.
Mr Chilcot said the inquiry had already started its work and had filed its first requests for government documents. He said the panel would consult the families of those soldiers killed in the war about what they wanted the priorities of the inquiry to be. Opposition parties are pushing for much of the inquiry to be held in public. A total of 179 British troops were killed in Iraq. Britain is currently withdrawing its last forces from the country.