Government to hold inquiry into Iraq war

LONDON Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:37pm GMT

A British soldier stands guard at Umm Qasr port, in the southern the city of Basra, July 7, 2008. REUTERS/Atef Hassan

A British soldier stands guard at Umm Qasr port, in the southern the city of Basra, July 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Atef Hassan

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will hold an inquiry into the Iraq war once all its troops have returned from the country at the end of July, Foreign Secretary David Miliband confirmed Wednesday.

The government has been under steady pressure to hold an inquiry into the conflict, which began six years ago this month, but has always said that it was unwilling to hold one while troops were still serving in Iraq. Asked in parliament if he could "give a commitment today that we will set up this inquiry as soon as practical after the 31st of July," Miliband responded: "Yes."

Britain has around 4,000 troops left on the ground in Iraq, virtually all of them in the southern city of Basra. Under an agreement with the Iraqi government, they are due to withdraw completely by the end of July.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair took the decision to send Britain to war in Iraq, saying it was essential that it stood "shoulder-to-shoulder" with the United States after the September 11 attacks.

For the invasion on March 20, 2003, Britain sent around 45,000 troops to help topple Saddam Hussein, and maintained a heavy presence there for the following four years, before gradually drawing down troop numbers.

The decision to go to war divided public and political opinion in Britain. A BBC reporter said in 2003 that a publicly released dossier making the case for war had been "sexed up" by officials, but an inquiry into the allegation ultimately sided with the government.

A full inquiry is likely to rehash not only the justification for the invasion, but also why Britain said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be launched within 45 minutes, when it was later shown Iraq had no such weapons.

It may also consider the facts surrounding the suicide in 2003 of David Kelly, a government weapons expert who was found dead after being linked to the BBC report stating that the government had exaggerated the case for going to war.

The prime minister's office had no immediate reaction to Miliband's confirmation of a full inquiry. The Foreign Office was not able to confirm when the inquiry would take place.

(Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Kate Kelland and Mark Trevelyan)