MPs sink Blair bid to buy off Gulf war critics

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A LABOUR dominated committee of MPs last night humiliated Tony Blair by announcing it would stage an independent inquiry into why Britain went to war with Iraq.

The influential foreign affairs select committee warned it may call the Prime Minister to give evidence in public as it investigates the controversy surrounding claims he doctored evidence to prove an urgent threat from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The inquiry will also demand answers from members of MI5 and MI6, Britain’s elite intelligence agencies - and "name and shame" them if they refuse to appear - as it digs into claims Mr Blair exaggerated the danger of Iraq’s WMD.

As Downing Street found itself yet again on the ropes over Iraq, it sanctioned an extraordinary attack on the intelligence services.

John Reid, the Commons leader, said that "rogue elements" had briefed against Mr Blair. While Hilary Armstrong, the chief whip, was said to have told colleagues the government was the victim of "skullduggery" within the intelligence services.

The new Commons committee inquiry will undermine a carefully planned strategy to buy off Mr Blair’s critics in the Labour Party which was due to be executed today.

He was expected to tell MPs a parliamentary watchdog will investigate the allegations that he doctored intelligence.

Mr Blair had hoped that the offer of an inquiry by the Intelligence Service Committee (ISC) would act as a concession to his critics and silence the growing demands for a full-scale public inquiry into claims he "sexed up" intelligence to "dupe" MPs.

However, it was clear he had been wildly optimistic, as the ISC inquiry was immediately dismissed as a "whitewash" and an "inside job".

The ISC is made up of senior MPs, but they meet behind closed doors and its reports go straight to the Prime Minister to be vetted.

Its inquiry is also unlikely to pacify Labour rebels as the committee is chaired by Ann Taylor, a former government chief whip and an acolyte of Mr Blair.

Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, told The Scotsman last night he believed any conclusions issued by the ISC would lack credibility. "The committee is appointed by the government - in effect, it is the government investigating itself," he said.

"Some critics [of Mr Blair] will never be satisfied, but for those who are reasonable and open, I would hope that the track record of my committee shows that we are ready to be critical where necessary," he added.

Mr Anderson said the committee’s findings would include a list of those who declined to give evidence, including the intelligence services.

The latest twist in the Iraq saga confirmed that Mr Blair today faces an extremely uncomfortable session in the House of Commons.

During two set-piece encounters, both sure to be highly-charged, he must face down questions from Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, and explain to angry Labour back-benchers why he has rejected their demands for an independent investigation.

The latest call came from John Denham, who resigned from the government in protest on the eve of the Iraqi conflict.

Echoing remarks made by former Cabinet ministers Robin Cook and Clare Short, Mr Denham said an independent investigation was vital to restore public confidence.

He said it should take in every aspect of the run-up to war including information supplied by the British intelligence agencies.

But Mr Blair’s official spokesman batted off the calls for an independent inquiry. He said: "We don’t see the need for one. It’s as simple as that."

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