The government has sparked heavy criticism by announcing that an official inquiry into the Iraq war will be held in private.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who had promised that an inquiry would begin this year, announced the details to the House of Commons this afternoon. None of the proceedings will be public but the inquiry will instead produce a report to be debated in Parliament.
It will be chaired by John Chilcot and will consider events between summer 2001 and July 2009. It is likely to last at least a year, meaning that it will not report until after the general election.
The Prime Minister also announced a “service of thanksgiving and commemoration” in Westminster Abbey.
The private inquiry was condemned by Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, who accused the Prime Minister of compounding the “error” of invading Iraq “by covering up the path that led to it”.
The Scottish National Party's Angus Robertson also criticised Brown, saying “the doors he was so keen to open have been slammed shut".
Ekklesia's associate director Symon Hill said: “This decision is staggering after so much talk of transparency and accountability in Parliament following the scandal over MP's expenses. This is a scandal of even greater proportions. Countless thousands of Iraqis and 179 UK troops, along with many others, have been killed. More still have been wounded in body or mind or had their lives torn apart. They deserve more than a secret inquiry.”
He added: “The service in Westminster Abbey should be a chance to remember those on all sides who have lost their lives in this appalling conflict. It is vital that the government is not allowed to abuse the service and make it into a religious blessing for the war.”
When a similar a service was held after the Falklands war of 1982, it led to a clash between the Church of England and the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who resisted calls for commemoration of the dead of all nationalities.
The UK joined the US government in invading Iraq in March 2003. Opinion polls in the run-up to the war consistently showed that it was opposed by the majority of the British public.
Until this year, the government resisted calls for an inquiry, claiming that it would undermine UK troops still in Iraq. Critics said that ministers were avoiding scrutiny.