Brown: Calls for Iraq probe ill-timed

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LONDON (Agence France-Presse) — Britain’s prime minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown, rejected a call for a new investigation into the government’s handling of the U.S.-led war in Iraq yesterday as his government defeated an opposition motion in Parliament for an inquiry.

Mr. Brown, the chancellor of the Exchequer, who is set to succeed Prime Minister Tony Blair at the end of the month, outlined his objections on a visit to Iraq, but pledged to learn from Britain’s mistakes in the war-torn country.

“The wrong time to even consider an inquiry is when you have got to give all your effort to supporting the troops on the ground,” Mr. Brown told Sky News from Baghdad, while not ruling out a probe at a later date.

“There are times to consider these things, but the right thing to do at the moment is to give the full support and the full force of government behind the troops on the ground,” Mr. Brown said.

William Hague, the foreign-affairs spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party, rejected this as he asked the House of Commons to back an investigative hearing with the power to summon officials and military commanders for questioning.

That motion was defeated in the Commons, though with a smaller majority than the government holds in parliament. Some 288 lawmakers voted against the proposal for an inquiry, against 253 who voted for it.

The ruling Labor Party’s parliamentary majority is 66.

In October, the government defeated an opposition motion demanding a similar inquiry.

“It is not true that our troops would be demoralized or our enemies would take heart if we took the trouble to find out what has gone wrong,” Mr. Hague told lawmakers.

“In a democratic society, the examination of successes and failures is a sign of strength, not of weakness,” he said.

Mr. Brown earlier said in Baghdad, his first trip to the Iraqi capital since being appointed Mr. Blair’s successor, that he thought it was “important to learn all the lessons, just as Mr. Blair has said he acted in good faith but mistakes were made.”

He told reporters that his visit was an attempt to get a first-hand report of the situation on the ground, “very much an assessment more than anything else, a fact-finding trip,” the British Broadcasting Corp. quoted him as saying.

The government has pledged to withdraw this year about 1,600 troops from a force of 7,100 deployed in Iraq. Some 150 British troops have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

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