Brown faces Iraq war grilling

2010-03-05 07:54
London - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces a grilling over his role in the Iraq war at a public inquiry on Friday, in an appearance fraught with risk ahead of a general election expected within weeks.

Former premier Tony Blair has been endlessly questioned about Britain's part in the 2003 invasion. He appeared before the same inquiry in January.

Brown however has kept largely silent about his involvement while serving as Blair's finance minister.

Commentators suggest Brown held back from taking part in preparations until just before the war, although he has recently faced damaging allegations that, while in control of the Treasury, he squeezed the armed forces' budget.

Whether he emerges as a bit-part player or a key decision-maker, the hearing is a wild card ahead of an election expected to take place on May 6.

Inquiry chairperson John Chilcot initially said he would not call Brown and other serving ministers until after the vote to avoid the hearing "being used as a platform for political advantage".

Following pressure from political rivals however, the prime minister offered to appear beforehand.

After two years trailing far behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls, Brown's governing Labour Party has experienced a recent boost in support, narrowing the opposition lead to between two and five percentage points.

The prime minister remains personally unpopular however. Any fresh revelations linking him to the still-divisive Iraq conflict - seen by many as a black mark on Labour's 13 years in power - could be highly damaging.

There will be a particular focus on how he funded the military, which lost 179 soldiers in the campaign and is currently engaged in fierce fighting in Afghanistan.

Brown was finance minister from 1997 until 2007, when he took over from Blair as prime minister.

In his testimony to the inquiry in January, the defence secretary at the time, Geoff Hoon, said his ministry had lacked funds for years before the war.

Friday's edition of The Times carries comments from General Charles Ronald Llewelyn Guthrie, who led the armed forces from 1997 to 2001.

"Not fully funding the army in the way they had asked... undoubtedly cost the lives of soldiers," he told the newspaper.

"He should be asked why he was so unsympathetic towards defence and so sympathetic to other departments."

And Jocelyn Cockburn, a lawyer for relatives of soldiers killed in lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq, said in Thursday's edition of The Times that she was urging Chilcot to challenge Brown over funding concerns.

"Specifically, was he aware of concerns around the lack of armoured vehicles and did he receive any requests for funding (particularly in the period 1997-2006) to purchase armoured vehicles?" she wrote in a letter to Chilcot.

The use of the Snatch trucks has been the focus of growing anger here after a number of soldiers were killed by roadside blasts in the trucks in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Read more on:    gordon brown  |  iraq  |  iraq war inquiry
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