Daniel Korski

The Iraq inquiry should examine bureaucratic as well as political failings

The Iraq inquiry should examine bureaucratic as well as political failings
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The Iraq Inquiry has now begun. Its chair, John Chilcot, has stressed that he will conduct the inquiry rigorously and, as far as possible, openly. These are sound goals.

But I'm concerned about the way the inquiry staff is being organised. Margaret Aldred, a senior Cabinet Office official, will lead the staff effort.

That is a real cause for concern. Ms Aldred, originally an MoD official, has been at the heart of British security policy-making in the last couple of years. Though the heads of the Overseas and Defence Secretariat - the PM's de facto National Security Adviser – have regularly changed, recently from Nigel Sheinwald to Simon McDonald, Ms Aldred has remained. Her role in security policy has probably been greater than any other British official.

If there is any glory to be reaped from the last few years of policy-making, she deserves to receive her share. But if there are any brickbats, then Ms Aldred should be one of the first to receive them.

Can she really be the best person to manage the Iraq Inquiry if, as many suspect, the failures were both political and bureaucratic?

In British politics it is often seen as bad form to criticise officials. Opposition leaders prefer to target Government ministers, keeping up the charade that the difference between policy failure and success comes down to who takes the red boxes home at night. Criticising officials, who cannot easily respond, is also seen as unfair.

But officials play an incredibly important role, not just in giving advice, but in shaping and implementing policy. When there has been a revolving door at the top of the MoD, the role and power of senior officials has grown.

Unfortunately, these officials have in many instances, been shown to lack many of the skills needed for the post-9/11 security policy task. That may not be surprising. Nobody on the FCO's Management Board has served in a hardship post. Few senior DfID officials, including the Permanent Secretary, deigned to visit Iraq until recently. Change in government alone will not alter the situation. The Iraq inquiry should examine the role of officials and what they got wrong as rigorously as it will the actions of ministers.