Generals Condemn Iraq Inquiry Secrecy; Cover-Up Warning as MPs Threaten to Rebel

Article excerpt

Byline: James Chapman and Matthew Hickley

MILITARY leaders last night attacked Gordon Brown's decision to hold the long-awaited inquiry into the Iraq war behind closed doors - warning it would look like a cover-up.

Opposition MPs and Labour rebels have also threatened to join forces in an attempt to throw it open to the public.

Gordon Brown has decided that the inquiry will not be allowed to appor-tion blame and will not have legal powers to compel witnesses to attend or subpoena documents.

But military men attacked the Government's 'manipulation' of information and demanded that their actions should be judged by the public.

Former Chief of the General Staff Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the Army at the time of the invasion, said he would have 'no problem at all' with giving evidence in public.

Holding the inquiry in private would simply fuel the current climate of 'suspicion and scepticism' about politics, he said.

He also told The Independent that it should have been possible to have a 'halfway house' arrangement - in which most of the proceedings were conducted in public, while those relating to secret intelligence were held in private.

Pointing out that 179 troops died in the conflict, Air Marshal Sir John Walker, the former head of Defence Intelligence, said that the inquiry would be held behind closed doors so the Government could avoid any blame.

He added: 'There are 179 reasons why the military want the truth to be out on what happened over Iraq.'

The call for openness was echoed by Major General Julian Thompson, who was highly decorated for his command of the Royal Marines in the Falklands.

He said: 'A report from a secret inquiry will look like a whitewash.'

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats were infuriated by Foreign Secretary David Miliband's suggestion yesterday that they had privately agreed to the shape of the inquiry - which will not report until after the next General Election - and the membership of the panel involved.

There was further anger over Mr Miliband's confident insistence that the inquiry would uncover no 'great conspiracies' over the 2003 conflict.

Opposition MPs are now due to force a Commons vote next week on the membership of the inquiry, its timing and the decision to hold sessions in private.

Sources claimed Labour rebels were considering joining the protest in a vote that will be symbolic, but could fatally under-minconfidence in the probe. …