British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced a broad, independent inquiry into the country's involvement in the Iraq war. But despite considerable pressure, Mr. Brown said the inquiry would not be held in public.
Speaking before the House of Commons, Mr. Brown said since British military operations in Iraq have ended, the time had come for a thorough inquiry into the war.
"I am today announcing the establishment of an independent privy counselor committee of inquiry. It will consider the period from summer 2001, before military operations began in March 2003, and our subsequent involvement in Iraq right until the end of July this year," he said.
The prime minister said the inquiry would be fully independent with access to all relevant British documents and witnesses. Mr. Brown said he expected it to last about one year.
"And I have asked the members of the inquiry that the final report of the inquiry will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information, that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security," he added.
Prime Minister Brown said the disclosed findings would be debated in parliament. But, he said the inquiry itself would be conducted in private.
That displeased those who had pushed for a full public inquiry into the war, among them Nick Clegg, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats.
"A secret inquiry conducted by a clutch of grandees, handpicked by the prime minister is not what Britain needs. Does the Prime Minister not understand that the purpose of an inquiry is not just to produce a set of conclusions, but to allow the people of Britain to come to terms with a mistake made in their name," said Clegg.
Mr. Brown said a private inquiry would encourage witnesses to speak out more freely. He also said the investigation would not seek to lay blame.
"As I have made clear the primary objective of the committee will be to identify lessons learned. The committee will not set out to apportion blame or consider issues of civil or criminal liability," Brown explained.
That comment did not go down well with the leader of the opposition Conservatives, David Cameron.
"If mistakes were made we need to know who made them and why they were made," he said.
Britain has held four different and more specific inquiries into the Iraq war. This one is designed to be the most comprehensive.
British forces were based mainly in southern Iraq, around the city of Basra. They ended full military operations at the end of April and fewer than 500 British troops remain in the country. Britain says 179 of its troops have died in Iraq.