Iraq war inquiry announced

By Ian Dunt

An inquiry into the Iraq war has finally been announced following years of pressure from opposition parties and anti-war groups.

The announcement came in an answer from foreign secretary David Miliband in an opposition day debate on the war in the Commons.

Mr Miliband confirmed it would begin as soon as was practical after July 31st, when the last load of British troops has left the country.

The decision therefore maintains the government’s line on the issue – that an inquiry was only suitable once British soldiers were on their way back to the UK.

As Gordon Brown said when he returned from visiting troops last December: “I have always said that this is a matter that we will consider once our troops have come home. We are not in that position at present, so it is not right to open the question now.”

A backbench Labour MP told “This is all about the Tories playing politics. They’re somersaulting all over the place.

“It’s something for nothing because anyone can argue for an Iraq inquiry, but that doesn’t show your real position.”

The government is not yet discussing the nature of the inquiry, or who will conduct it. Downing Street said a “range of considerations” had to be assessed and that this process would not begin until after July 31st.

The prime minister’s spokesman said these included “ongoing operations in Iraq” and the “availability of resources to commit to the investigation”.

The Conservatives are calling for it to be carried out by a privy council – essentially ‘the great and the good’ – but the government is refusing to be drawn into the discussion, or the inquiry’s terms of reference.

Mr Miliband did confirm it would be “comprehensive”, however.

The announcement did little to paper over the cracks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

“The Labour government and Conservative party must not be allowed to stitch up the British public with the kind of narrow and secretive inquiry which would suit them both,” said Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey.

“While the Liberal Democrats opposed this illegal and immoral war, the Tories failed in their duty as an opposition party by voting for it.”

Just before the confirmation, shadow foreign secretary William Hague told Mr Miliband the Tories would make an inquiry one of their first acts if they came to power.

“We will learn the necessary lessons and what went wrong in the functioning of government itself,” Mr Hague said.

He remained unsatisfied today, releasing a statement lambasting the government’s timing.

“This should have been done long ago,” it read.

“It is alarming that by setting a date of 31st July, when parliament will have adjourned for the summer, the government is now dragging out the setting up of an inquiry until the autumn. This is unacceptable.”

The decision comes just days after the war’s sixth anniversary, when published a comment piece from the founder of Military Families Against the War, Rose Gentle, whose son died in Iraq.

In her piece, Ms Gentle reiterated calls for an inquiry.

“One day we will know why we went there and we can all make up our own minds,” she wrote.

“But as a mum I have to know now.”

Families of those who had died in the war, including Ms Gentle and Reg Keys, handed in a petition to Downing Street today calling for a public inquiry.

UK troop numbers will be reduced from 4,100 to 400 by the end of July.