David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, provoked anger and incredulity yesterday when he hailed the Iraq war as a "remarkable victory" which had brought democracy and security to the conflict-ridden country.
Mr Miliband, who was a junior minister for schools when the invasion took place, was accused of being "in denial" by critics of the war when he joined George Bush in claiming it had been a success. "The war itself was a remarkable victory. It went better than most people expected," he told GMTV yesterday.
He conceded that building the peace had been "much more difficult than people expected". But he insisted that democracy had taken root after the removal of Saddam Hussein and 11 million Iraqis had voted in the elections.
"Yes, it's a very dangerous situation for our troops and for the Iraqis, but... the number of attacks is down, the amount of trade that is going on is up, the economic situation has improved and that, in a way, is a function of the security improvement," he added.
Peter Kilfoyle, the former Labour defence minister, who voted against the war, said Mr Miliband's reaction was typical of those who refused to face up to the reality of the invasion and its aftermath. "It seems as though... those who voted for the war are trying to avoid responsibility for their part in embarking on an immoral and illegal war," he said. "The war has been an absolute disaster on every level. They are in denial."
Mr Kilfoyle added: "It has demoralised our armies, it has alienated our former friends, and the cavalier fashion with which it was embarked upon by Blair and Bush has alarmed people worldwide."
The Tories will try to force a fresh Commons vote on Tuesday demanding an immediate inquiry into the war, a step which Mr Kilfoyle called "the height of hypocrisy because only a handful of Tories voted against the war".
In the Lords yesterday, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, a Defence minister, fended off demands for an inquiry from Lord Howell of Guildford, a former Tory cabinet minister. "We owe it to our troops to concentrate on supporting them in the actions that they are taking at the moment," she said.
But this point of view was futile, according to the Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally, who kept up demands for an inquiry. "It is all very well praising the bravery and courage of our armed services, but if politicians make the wrong decisions... the armed forces pay the penalty," he said.
* Forty-six per cent of Army spouses indicated in a poll released yesterday by the Army Families Federation that they would be happier if their partners quit the forces.