Head of UK's Iraq war inquiry defends report delay

Long delays in the publication of Britain`s official inquiry into the Iraq war were unavoidable due to its complexity, the head of the inquiry, former civil servant John Chilcot, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

London: Long delays in the publication of Britain`s official inquiry into the Iraq war were unavoidable due to its complexity, the head of the inquiry, former civil servant John Chilcot, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

Announced in 2009, the report investigating the US-led invasion of Iraq and its aftermath was expected to take a year but last month Chilcot said there was "no realistic prospect" of delivering it before a May 7 general election.

The latest delay, to allow those criticised in the report to respond, has provoked an outcry from lawmakers and stirred up fears of a whitewash among some relatives of those killed in the war.

"The scope of this inquiry is unprecedented," Chilcot told lawmakers. "We are not concerned with a single incident and its aftermath, rather we cover decisions over a nine-year period and the consequences that flowed from them."

He said the inquiry had underestimated the amount of time it would take to analyse the evidence it had gathered, which he said had come from over 150,000 government documents and 150 witnesses. 

Britain was Washington`s main ally in the war, despite widespread public opposition. Chilcot said the report had earlier been stalled by diplomatic sensitivities about releasing exchanges between then-leaders US President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.