David Miliband has made his clearest acknowledgement yet that attempts to bring peace to Iraq have failed. The Foreign Secretary flatly contradicted President George Bush's claim in 2003 that it was "mission accomplished" in Iraq, telling MPs: "It is evident that the mission has not been accomplished."
It was a "basic truth" that the aftermath of the invasion had not gone to plan, Mr Miliband said, adding: "It seems absolutely clear that the war itself went better than expected but that the building of the peace has gone much worse than people expected. That is the basic truth and we might as well all accept that."
His admission in the Commons came as he faced Opposition demands for a Privy Council inquiry into the conduct of the war and its aftermath. Gordon Brown has promised such an inquiry but cautioned that it should not take place while British troops are still in action in Iraq.
Speaking as Iraqi forces fought Shia militants in Basra, Mr Miliband suggested the situation was "in the balance". He said British forces were still performing a vital missionand insisted that an inquiry into the invasion and conduct of the war should not take place until UK troops had returned home.
"There is agreement that an inquiry into the Iraq war will be necessary," he told MPs. "The dispute between us does not concern substance but timing. The Opposition have said the time is now. Given reports from Basra today, most people would see that as a bizarre choice of priority now."
But he faced pressure from Opposition and some Labour MPs to launch an immediate investigation. William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said it would be a "dereliction of duty" if ministers failed to learn lessons from the war.