Chilcot Inquiry: Publish Report in 2015 or Face Legal Action, Say Soldiers' Families

The families of British soldiers killed in the Iraq War have demanded that Sir John Chilcot to set a deadline for the publication of his report on the UK inquiry into the conflict, and are threatening legal action if he fails to do so in the next two weeks.

The five-member panel leading the inquiry began collecting evidence in 2009 and heard from hundreds of witnesses, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, concluding its final hearings in 2011. The wide-ranging inquiry has sought to detail communications between Blair and President George W. Bush in the run-up to the conflict. The report is estimated to cost taxpayers around £10 million ($15.6 million), according to the BBC.

Chilcot has said that the report is being held up by the Maxwellisation process—a process by which those criticised in the report are given a right to respond, with those facing particular scrutiny including Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Lawyers acting on behalf of 29 of the deceased soldiers' families have demanded that Chilcot set a deadline for witnesses to respond and that the report be published by the end of the year. They say that Chilcot has acted unlawfully by failing to set a publication deadline and are threatening to take the case to the High Court.

Reg Keys, father of Lieutenant Corporal Thomas Keys who was killed in Iraq in 2003, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Iraq "is like an open wound" and that the families needed closure. Matthew Jury, a solicitor representing the families, told the BBC the delay was "a black cloud hanging over [the families'] heads" and that the report's publication would allow them to "finally know the truth."

However, Sir Crispin Blunt, who heads up the Foreign Affairs Committee which Chilcot appeared before in February, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while he understood the families' frustrations, the inquiry would ultimately carry "even more authority" and be "even more beyond criticism" if the responses of those involved were allowed to be incorporated. Blunt added that he guessed the inquiry would report at some point in 2016.

179 British servicemen and women were killed in the conflict, triggered by the invasion of Iraq by U.K. and U.S forces in 2003. The number of Iraqis killed in the war is subject to dispute: a 2013 survey by U.S. public health experts estimated around 500,000 people died as a result of the war and its consequences, while Iraq Body Count, which documents confirmed violent deaths caused by the war, puts the figure at a maximum of 161,810. U.K. combat operations in Iraq ended in 2009 and the last British soldiers withdrew in 2011, ending an operation in which more than 46,000 British military personnel were involved and which cost the country more than £10 billion ($15.6 billion).

The Chilcot Inquiry was announced by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009, with the aim of identifying lessons to be learnt from the Iraq War. At the time, Brown said the inquiry would take a year to be published. The inquiry covers the period from summer 2001 to the end of July 2009, encompassing the run-up and aftermath of the conflict as well as the war itself. At the inquiry's launch, Chilcot said the lessons learned would "help ensure that, if we face similar situations in the future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country."

However, the slowness of the process has drawn frustration from Prime Minister David Cameron, who earlier this month demanded that Chilcot produced a timetable for publication. Earlier this year, Chilcot had said the report would not be ready before May's General Election. In February, he appeared before MPs on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for questioning, where he explained the report had been delayed by 13 months as the panel tried to obtain confidential material relating to communications between Blair and President Bush. In May 2014, the Cabinet Office agreed that a "small number of extracts" or the "gist" of the material would be released.

Chilcot's latest update came on 20 July, when he wrote to Blunt and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Chilcot wrote that the inquiry "continues to make significant progress through Maxwellisation" and that a timetable would be delivered to the Prime Minister once the process was concluded. He added that he judged that none of those criticised "has taken an unreasonable length of time to respond."