LONDON – British officials have agreed to make public some details of the exchanges between then-Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq — but the full versions of the conversations will remain secret.
A British inquiry into decisions and mistakes in the planning and execution of the war began in 2009. Its report has been delayed for several years by negotiations over the inclusion of classified material, including 25 notes and 130 records of conversations between Blair and Bush ahead of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.
On Thursday, the inquiry's chief, retired civil servant John Chilcot, confirmed that a deal had been reached to publish "gists" and selected quotes from the messages.
He said none of the material made public would "reflect President Bush's views."
"We have also agreed that the use of direct quotation from the documents should be the minimum necessary to enable the inquiry to articulate its conclusions," Chilcot wrote in a letter to Britain's top civil servant, Jeremy Heywood.
The British government has resisted publishing the material because it would compromise the confidentiality of the leaders' discussions. Heywood's department, the Cabinet Office, said Thursday that "resolving this issue has taken longer than originally hoped but these are sensitive issues. The U.K./U.S. head of government channel is very important and must be handled sensitively."
The war, in which 179 U.K. troops died, triggered large public protests in Britain and shadowed the final years of Blair's premiership.
It remains a hugely divisive subject. Critics of the invasion accuse the Blair government of exaggerating intelligence about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction to make the case for war. No such weapons were ever found.
It's still unclear when Chilcot's report will be released. Individuals who are criticized in the document will be given the chance to respond before it is published.