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Date Set for Iraq War Public Hearings in UK

Panel to start hearing evidence on 24 November in London • Witnesses including Tony Blair will have to testify in public

by Peter Walker and agencies

The first public hearings at the long-awaited inquiry into the Iraq war will take place next month, the panel's chairman has announced.

British troops in Basra, Iraq, before the withdrawal of UK forces this year. (Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images) They will begin on 24 November at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in central London, close to parliament, Sir John Chilcot said.

The former top civil servant reiterated that when the inquiry begins to hear from witnesses – set to include Tony Blair among a series of current and former ministers, as well as military officers and Whitehall officials – they will be expected to give their evidence in public.

"Only if there are genuine issues of national or personal security would such senior witnesses be justified in seeking to give some of their evidence in private," he said.

The inquiry will look at the period from shortly before the 9/11 attacks of 2001 until July this year when all but a handful of British troops left Iraq. It began work three months ago with a process of gathering documentary evidence and preparing for witnesses to be interviewed.

Chilcot has suggested previously that the most significant witnesses, Blair among them, are likely to be called near the end of the inquiry to ensure they are asked all the relevant questions.

Chilcot has said he wants to make the process "as open as possible", with hearings televised and covered live on the internet.

Chilcot has warned that the panel is unlikely to report its findings before late next year, with the process perhaps even stretching into 2011.

The Conservatives have complained that it is in the government's interests to make sure the inquiry does not report until after next year's general election.

 

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