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Opposition push for immediate Iraq inquiry faces defeat

Andrew Grice
Tuesday 18 March 2008 01:00 GMT

MPs will vote next week on whether there should be a full-scale inquiry into the Iraq war to ensure that lessons are learnt from the mistakes made.

The Tories will stage a Commons debate on Iraq a week today in an attempt to force Gordon Brown to honour his pledge to hold an investigation. The Prime Minister committed himself to calling an inquiry in a letter to the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society. But he insisted the time is not yet right because the situation in Iraq remains "fragile".

The Liberal Democrats and some Labour MPs who opposed the war will join the Tories in voting for an inquiry into the "origins and conduct" to be set up now. But the Government is likely to defeat the Opposition's proposal. Many Labour MPs privately want an investigation, but are reluctant to support a Tory motion.

William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "As we reach the fifth anniversary of the invasion, it is becoming imperative to begin an inquiry before memories have faded, emails have been deleted and documents have disappeared."

He added: "The remaining arguments against an inquiry could just as well be used to justify its indefinite postponement. Now that our troops are in an over-watch role it should be possible to begin the inquiry, which the whole nation wants and expects to happen."

Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, accused Mr Brown of running scared of an inquiry. Instead of inventing excuses, he said, the Government should hold an investigation as soon as possible so the lessons learnt could be applied in Afghanistan. "The decision should not depend on the Government's own political convenience," he said. "There is no excuse for delay."

The Liberal Democrats, who, unlike the Tories, opposed the war, welcomed the move. Ed Davey, their foreign affairs spokesman, said: "It is good to see that the Tories are following our lead in calling for an inquiry. Perhaps next week's debate will also give David Cameron and his colleagues the chance to explain why they voted for this catastrophic war in the first place."

Peter Kilfoyle, the former Labour defence minister, said Mr Brown's promise did not go far enough. "There has to be an inquiry and the sooner there is, the better. To all intents and purposes, we are out of Iraq. I can see no reason why an inquiry cannot be commenced," he said.

Meanwhile, a report from military leaders in the next few weeks is said to warn that plans to bring home more British forces may have to be postponed. The Prime Minister had planned to reduce numbers from 4,100 to about 2,500 this spring, but there is speculation that a smaller cut will be announced.

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