British legislators reject immediate inquiry into Blair’s handling of the Iraq war
LONDON – British lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly rejected a proposal for an immediate inquiry into the role of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government in the Iraq conflict.Lawmakers voted 298-273 against the motion put forward by Welsh and Scottish nationalists, who had demanded a swift examination of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.A dozen members of Blair’s Labour Party voted for the inquiry, in a further blow to his authority, already challenged by poor municipal election results, rifts within the party and a parliamentary defeat on anti-terror legislation.The rebellion, however, was relatively small compared to others Blair has suffered.The proposal called for British lawmakers to hold an examination of policy in Iraq similar to the review in the United States being led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.”If it can happen in the U.S., why not here?” Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Michael Moore asked. “We cannot allow the policy thinking and policy making to be carried out across the Atlantic and not here.”Defense Secretary Des Browne said after the vote that there would eventually be an inquiry into the war, a promise that went further than other government officials’ more noncommittal comments earlier in the day.”(Foreign Secretary) Margaret Beckett … indicated that there would be a time for that sort of retrospective inquiry, but it is not now,” Browne told British Broadcasting Corp. television. “When the time is right, of course there will be such an inquiry.”Beckett said during an emotional debate before the vote that a decision on holding an inquiry should not be made while Britain’s 7,000 troops remain in Iraq. Passing the motion would be perceived as a sign of weakness and bolster Britain’s enemies, she warned.”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.The debate, led by the small Scottish National Party and Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru, was the first on the role of troops since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and the first on Iraq since a probe of intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in 2004.Britain’s main opposition Conservative Party, which had hoped to propose an inquiry once troops are withdrawn, promised another debate on the issue next month.The exchanges Tuesday saw vociferous attacks from legislators on Blair’s handling of the invasion.”On the political tombstone of this prime minister will be one word – Iraq,” said lawmaker Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.An inquiry would help ensure no “vainglorious or ignorant prime minister could ever again” mislead Parliament into supporting an ill-judged military action, Conservative lawmaker Peter Tapsell said.Plaid Cymru legislator Adam Price had told lawmakers an inquiry was necessary to examine “why planning for and conduct of the occupation had been so disastrous.”He said intelligence used to build a case for the invasion had later proven to be false and had explained why Blair’s government “had hemorrhaged public support.”Much of Blair’s term in office has been dogged by recriminations over Iraq, which threaten to overshadow a major commitment to tackling climate change.Two previous independent inquiries into Iraq – one on flawed intelligence before the invasion and another into the related death of a government scientist – badly dented his reputation and diminished electoral support for Labour.Once it became clear that a main reason for the war – Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction – was unfounded, support for military action in Britain dwindled. Blair’s close alliance with President Bush has also led to widespread criticism of the prime minister and his government.
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