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UK Politics

Brown rejects call for early Iraq war inquiry

Gordon Brown batted away demands for an early inquiry into the Iraq war today - insisting it would not be "right" until troops arrive home.

The Prime Minister faced calls to give a timetable for a probe as he confirmed to MPs that UK military operations in the troubled country would end by May 31 "at the latest".

A "rapid" withdrawal after that will be complete by July, he added.

Challenged to announce an independent inquiry by Tory leader David Cameron, Mr Brown responded: "I have always said this is a matter we will consider once our troops have come home. We are not at that stage."

Reporting on his visit to Iraq yesterday, Mr Brown insisted the agreement he had struck guaranteed that UK forces would be able to operate legally there after the UN mandate runs out in January.

The premier also announced that a memorial wall in Basra for British service personnel would be transferred to the UK after the pullout was complete.

"We can be proud of the way that our forces carried out their mission in the most difficult times," he said.

"As remembrance is vitally important the Defence Secretary and I have decided after consultation that we shall bring that memorial wall, now standing in Basra, home to a fitting resting place of its own in our own country.

"We will do so when at the end of July the last of our combat troops leave Basra, a memorial now and forever to be in Britain."

Mr Brown said commanders on the ground would decide when operational missions were complete, but the latest date was May 31 next year.

"At that point we will begin a rapid withdrawal of our troops, taking the total from just under 4,100 to under 400 by July 31. The majority of those will be dedicated to naval training," he added.

Iraq had endured "dark days" over the past five-and-a-half years, but it had also made "very significant progress", he said.

"No road it takes will be easy," Mr Brown added. "But today's levels of violence across the whole of Iraq are at their lowest for five years, economic growth this year is almost 10%."

There were more than 1,270 candidates for provincial elections in January, so "democracy is clearly growing".

Both Mr Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg demanded an early and full inquiry into the military campaign.

Mr Cameron said the mission in Iraq had been "deficient" because it lacked "clear and specific objectives" and was not "properly resourced from the outset".

A "robust, independent inquiry" was needed to learn lessons which could be vital in Afghanistan, and there was no reason to delay until after troops returned home, he added.

"With the need to learn all these lessons in mind can you tell us why you have not announced today a fullscale, independent inquiry?" Mr Cameron said.

A probe comparable to the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war should be set up with the powers to interview all of the war Cabinet.

However, Mr Brown said it was "not right to open the question" of an inquiry now, and stressed that the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not "exactly parallel".