Government rules out inquiry into Iraq conflict

Andrew Grice
Wednesday 26 December 2007 01:00 GMT

The Government has backtracked over demands for an independent inquiry into the mistakes made in the run-up to and aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

Ministers have hinted repeatedly that an investigation would be held after British forces leave the country. But they have now changed tack in the hope of "moving on" in Iraq rather than looking back at what went wrong.

Asked if an inquiry would take place after British troops withdraw, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, replied: "I am obsessed with the next five years in Iraq, not the last five years in Iraq. And I think that the best 'inquiry' is putting the best brains to think about how to make sure the next five years in Iraq get that combination of political reconstruction, economic reconstruction and security improvement that are so essential."

His statement will bitterly disappoint anti-war campaigners, who hoped that Gordon Brown would draw a line under Iraq after succeeding Tony Blair by holding an investigation to ensure the lessons are learnt.

After becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown rejected calls for an immediate inquiry but raised hopes that one might be held after British troops withdraw.

He said in September: "There will be a time to discuss the question you raise but for the moment nothing has changed. The security and safety of our forces and there are more than 5,000 people in Iraq remain the first and foremost consideration."

Campaigners say the case for an inquiry has grown after British forces moved from a combat to overwatch role after handing control of Basra to Iraqi security forces this month. Some 4,500 British troops remain in the country but the number is due to fall to 2,500 by the spring.

Mr Blair argued that there had already been four separate inquiries into Iraq, including Lord Butler of Brockwell's 2004 report on the flawed intelligence on which the case for war was built. But the Tories and Liberal Democrats, who want a full-scale inquiry, argue that there has been no overarching review, particularly into the lack of planning for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

In November 2006, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said there would be an inquiry "when the time is right" after the Government defeated a proposal calling for one in the Commons. Margaret Beckett, the then Foreign Secretary, assured MPs: "I have no doubt there will be a time when we want to learn lessons."

The hardening line against an inquiry is disclosed by Mr Miliband in an interview with Fabian Review, the journal of the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society, published next week.

Sunder Katwala, the society's general secretary, called for an investigation as part of a 10-point manifesto for the world after George Bush leaves office in a year. He said: "We must learn many lessons after the Iraq war from the failures of intelligence and diplomacy to the shameful lack of a reconstruction plan. Gordon Brown should announced that a full public inquiry will begin once British troops leave Iraq."

Mr Katwala said that learning lessons from the "catastrophic pre-emptive intervention" in Iraq should not mean ignoring genocide in future. National governments should promote much greater awareness of United Nations' principles to reassure the public that intervention can be effective and legitimate.

Maria Eagle, the Justice Minister, urged Labour MPs to "hold your nerve" after the Government's recent setbacks. She told the website that voters would judge Labour on the bread-and-butter issues of the economy, schools and hospitals, rather than the controversies of the past few months.

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