Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

UK Commons decides to postpone Iraq probe

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The UK government indicated on Tuesday night that it would concede a high-level inquiry into the war in Iraq once British troops had been withdrawn.

The move came as Tony Blair narrowly survived a House of Commons push to force him to set up an immediate parliamentary inquiry after a fractious and at times bitter debate in which the government's majority was cut to 25.

During the exchanges, the UK foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, pointedly refused to rule out an inquiry at a later stage, saying no doubt at some point lessons would have to be learned.

"It is perfectly sensible and legitimate to say that there will come a time when these issues will be explored in the round and in full so that we can learn whatever lessons we can from them," she said.

Senior government sources separately hinted that an inquiry of some form was now likely.

With Gordon Brown anxious to restore the authority of parliament, and trust in politicians, the chancellor will be under pressure to hold an inquest into the wider foreign policy failures of the Iraq invasion. He has already admitted there have been policy mistakes in planning for Iraq after the invasion.

In the first full Commons debate on Iraq since the invasion in 2003, the government survived the call for an immediate inquiry led by the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists by 298 to 273, a government majority of 25. Formally the government has a majority of 66.

Approximately 10 Labour MPs rebelled, including Bob Marshall Andrews, Bob Wareing, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Lynn Jones, with a larger number abstaining. Beckett fended off the demands for an immediate inquiry saying it would send the message to British troops and to the Iraqi insurgency that there was a weakening of the British commitment.

She urged MPs to remember that "our words ... will be heard a very long way away. They can be heard by our troops who are already in great danger in Iraq."

The defence minister, Adam Ingram, also characterized an inquiry now as "a show trial for narrow political purposes. It is not about establishing new facts or new evidence".

He accused the Tories of collaborating with the nationalists to undermine the UK.

But the shadow (opposition) foreign secretary, William Hague, ridiculed the argument that having a debate would harm the morale of British troops.

"I don't believe that it is possible to argue in a House of Commons which 80 years ago instituted an inquiry into the Dardanelles while the first world war was still raging that to raise even a suggestion that an inquiry in the future is somehow to undermine the British army," he said. "The British army is tougher and more thoughtful than that."

The vote was also seen as the first serious test of the authority of the new chief whip, Jacqui Smith. Many anti-war Labour MPs, including those that have supported previous motions calling for an inquiry, held back from rebellion, because they were reluctant to give any political succor to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

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