Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Iraq War inquiry demanded

Tories demand Iraq war inquiry

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

Monday June 11, 2007 (6 pm)

Guardian Unlimited

The Conservatives today demanded a full-scale inquiry into the Iraq war and its aftermath - warning that without a swift investigation the government could dispose of embarrassing evidence.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, insisted there should be an in-depth inquiry into the war before it was too late.

And in a damning display of distrust in the Blair government, he told MPs the investigation must happen before "memories fade, documents are shredded and emails become untraceable".

Although the call in the Commons will go to a vote later tonight, the government's majority means it stands no chance of being forced to agree to such a investigation - despite the backing of the Liberal Democrats, the nationalist parties and even some Labour backbenchers.

The normally loyal Labour MP Chris Bryant backed the call for an inquiry, although he said it should go further and be a full independent inquiry by parliament rather than just the privy council.

The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, faced ire from MPs when she branded the call for a rapid investigation "self-indulgent".

Mrs Beckett was heckled loudly as she said the inquiry would "divert attention" from the current war effort in Iraq.

The government points to the four inquiries that have already been held into Iraq or surrounding issues.

They are an inquiry in 2003 by the foreign affairs select committee, an inquiry by the PM-appointed security and intelligence committee, the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances around David Kelly's death and the Butler inquiry into the intelligence failures in the lead up to the conflict.

Although the Tories backed the original decision to go to war, today Mr Hague demanded that the government bow to the "gathering consensus" there needed to be another inquiry.

He was joined by his party leader, David Cameron, who made a show of sitting alongside Mr Hague in the Commons even though the prime minister - who had earlier briefed MPs on the G8 summit - had left.

Mr Hague said the war was "one of the most controversial and difficult issues of our time" and that success in Iraq had proved "progressively more elusive".

He proposed setting up a privy council inquiry, which would begin taking evidence "in the near future", while troops are still in Iraq.

Mr Hague said: "None of us in this house should turn our face against a major inquiry into what has happened.

"This government and future governments need to learn the lessons and the country needs to be assured that they will have done so.

"No adequate reason remains for the government to refuse to establish such an inquiry to begin its work in the near future."

The Tories want both the run up and the aftermath of the war to be subject to the examination by privy councillors - essentially a cross section of senior MPs and cabinet ministers.

Mr Hague insisted that would be non-partisan, and that the inquiry's conclusions, if not all its evidence, would be made public.

Mrs Beckett said the government's view was that "there would come a time when these issues will be explored in the round" but while troops are actively engaged in Iraq "it would be wrong to launch such an inquiry".

The debate in the Commons came as Gordon Brown made a surprise visit to Baghdad, where he pledged to take any future political involvement out of intelligence matters, and promised MPs would have a vote on military action in future.


The motion to force the government to hold an inquiry was rejected by 288 votes to 253.



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