Brown resists call to testify early on Iraq

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown resisted a call on Wednesday to give evidence ahead of the general election at a public inquiry into the Iraq war.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivers his speech at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London, January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Akira Suemori/Pool

Brown, who is not due to appear at the hearings until after the election expected in May, said parliament had agreed it would be left to the Chilcot inquiry committee to decide when to call witnesses.

“I have nothing to hide on this matter, I am happy to give evidence,” he said in reply to the demand from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg during his weekly questions session in parliament.

“I will follow the recommendations of the Chilcot committee,” Brown said.

Clegg had called on Brown to do “the decent thing” and volunteer to give his evidence now, “before people decide how to vote on his record in government.”

The move suggests the Liberal Democrats hope to benefit in the election contest from the unpopularity of the Iraq war, which they opposed.

Britain sent 45,000 troops to support the 2003 U.S.-led invasion despite widespread doubts about its legality and mass protests against it on the streets of London.

“This isn’t just a question for Sir John Chilcot, it’s a question for the prime minister’s own conscience,” said Clegg.

“When the decisions were taken to launch this illegal war, he wasn’t only in the room -- he was the one who signed the cheques.”

On Tuesday Blair’s former press chief Alastair Campbell told the inquiry that Brown, then finance minister, was part of the inner circle who Blair consulted on Iraq.

The opposition Conservatives, on course to win the election if they maintain their lead in opinion polls, supported Clegg’s appeal.

“We urge Gordon Brown to put it on the record that he would give evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the election if he was asked to do so,” said Conservative foreign affairs spokesman William Hague.

Chilcot said in December that the inquiry was determined to remain “firmly outside party politics.”

The inquiry has said it will wait until after the election until it hears from Brown, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander.

It said this was because it would not be possible to question them without the hearings being used as a “platform for political advantage.”

Editing by Adrian Croft