AFP - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced an independent inquiry into the Iraq war Monday, six years after his predecessor Tony Blair controversially backed the US-led invasion.
Brown said the probe would not "apportion blame" but simply seek to learn lessons to "strengthen the health of our democracy", while praising the role of British forces in Iraq.
But David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives who are tipped to win the next general election, accused him of deliberately delaying publication of the findings until after the poll to avoid any "inconvenient conclusions".
"I'm today announcing the establishment of an independent privy councillor committee of inquiry," Brown told the House of Commons.
"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."
The inquiry will examine the circumstances leading up to Britain's decision under Blair to support then US president George W. Bush in the March 2003 invasion to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and its aftermath.
Brown has long promised a probe into the war after all but a handful of Britain's 4,100 troops withdraw from Iraq by an agreed date of July 31.
He is now facing a row over whether or not it will be held in private.
Nick Clegg, leader of the second opposition party, the centrist Liberal Democrats, told the Observer newspaper Sunday: "If he (Brown) holds it all or partly in secret and kicks the eventual report into the long grass, it will be a betrayal of all those families who lost children serving in Iraq.
"They need answers, not another Whitehall stitch-up."
This is not the first time the British government has been accused of taking a secretive approach to investigations into the Iraq war.
In February, it said it would veto publication of minutes from ministerial discussions about the legality of the invasion.
There have already been two official probes into elements of the Iraq war.
The Hutton inquiry, which reported in 2004, looked at the suicide of David Kelly, a government scientist who killed himself after being named as the possible source of a BBC report claiming the government "sexed up" a dossier on Iraq's military capability.
Meanwhile the Butler inquiry, which reported the same year, highlighted failings in intelligence over whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
A total of 179 British personnel have died serving in Iraq since March 2003.
The announcement comes as Brown bids to reassert his authority over his ruling Labour Party, after a scandal over parliamentary expenses and historically bad results in European and local elections prompted a wave of ministerial resignations and calls for him to quit.
A You Gov/Sunday Times poll gave Labour 24 percent support compared to 40 percent for the main opposition Conservatives led by David Cameron.