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Iraq: Brown and Blair face public hearings

UK Premier Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair face being questioned in public about their roles in the run-up to the Iraq war after the chairperson of the independent inquiry into the war indicated that he will summon the two men to give evidence.

In a setback for Brown, who had hoped the inquiry would be held in private, Sir John Chilcot ruled that all witnesses will be expected to give evidence in public. This will apply across the board unless there are “compelling reasons” in a small number of cases for evidence to be heard in private. This would be if evidence could jeopardise national security or upset allies.

The decision by Chilcot opens up the prospect that Blair and Brown will be cross-examined on their roles in the Iraq war during the build-up to the general election that is expected to take place next year. Chilcot is not giving any indication on the timing of his hearings, which means that he could defer politically sensitive appearances by Brown and his predecessor until after the election.

The move to open the hearings, which came on the eve of a House of Commons debate on Wednesday on the inquiry, shows that a wholesale change of the terms has been carried out since the inquiry was established by Brown last week. The decision to summon Brown and Blair for public hearings was disclosed by Nick Clegg, the leader of the British Liberal Democrat party, who met Chilcot on Tuesday. Chilcot held a separate meeting with David Cameron, the leader of the UK’s main opposition Conservative party.

The prospect of public grillings for Brown and Blair shows how the prime minister’s plans for the inquiry have been dramatically changed since it was established last week. On June 15 Brown told MPs that the inquiry would be modelled on the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands war, which met in private. He said: “I believe that will also ensure that evidence given by serving and former ministers, military officers and officials is as full and candid as possible.” —

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