Brown announces Iraq war inquiry

PM criticised after confirming that inquiry will be held in private

Gordon Brown has announced details of a wide-ranging inquiry into the Iraq war as he seeks to reconcile rebellious backbenchers.

In a statement to the House of Commons this afternoon, the Prime Minister said the inquiry would be held in private and could take up to a year to conclude.

He added that it would be modelled on the 1982 Franks Inquiry into the Falklands war but would be broader in its scope.

"It will cover the run-up to the conflict, the conflict itself and reconstruction, so Britain can learn lessons in each and every area," he said.

"Our troops first went into Iraq in 2003 and they are now coming home, now is the right time to ensure we have the right process in place to learn the lessons."

Defending the decision to hold a private inquiry, Brown said national security concerns meant this was essential.

But Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said that the failure to launch a public inquiry was an "insult".

“We are talking about the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez," he said.

He added: “To lock a bunch of grandees behind closed doors in secret and wait for them to come up with a puff of smoke would be an insult.”

Brown also promised that the inquiry would have comprehensive access to all government documents.

"The inquiry will receive the full cooperation of the government – with access to all government papers and the ability to call any witnesses ... No British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry," he said.

The inquiry will be chaired by Sir John Chilcot, a former senior civil servant in Northern Ireland, and will also include the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderick Lyne and Sir Lawrence Freedman.

David Cameron welcomed Brown's announcement but expressed his concern over the length of the inquiry, which is unlikely to conclude before the next election.

"The timing of the inquiry will lead people to believe it was fixed to make sure the government does not have to face up to any difficult conclusions," he said.

John McDonnell, chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, said that a private inquiry “will not please anyone”. He added: “This is an attempt at a fresh start by Mr Brown, but it is typically cautious and a complete miscalculation. All this will do is increase the sense in the public at large that the inquiry is a whitewash”.

Before Brown's statement, Alan Simpson, the chair of Labour Against the War, warned: “If it is done secretively, it could be the final nail in his coffin.”

Labour backbenchers are now expected to table a parliamentary motion demanding that the inquiry be “full and public”.

The decision to hold an inquiry earlier than expected is part of a series of conciliatory measures designed to prevent further backbench rebellions. The part-privatisation of Royal Mail, opposed by over 100 Labour backbenchers, has been postponed and may now be abandoned. In addition, Alan Johnson, the new Home Secretary, has launched a major review of the £5.3 billion identity card (ID) scheme, opening up the possibility of a policy reversal.