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

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

will begin on 24 November at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre
in central London, close to parliament, Sir John Chilcot said.

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.

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.

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

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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