LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be questioned about his role in the invasion of Iraq, the inquiry’s press office confirmed Friday.
The surprise move means that shortly before Britain’s general election Brown would have to outline how he helped plan the unpopular war and its bloody aftermath. Brown’s governing Labour Party is already widely expected to lose the election, which must be called by June 3.
The Iraq Inquiry, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the 2003 invasion, originally said Brown and other senior ministers wouldn’t appear, in an effort to keep proceedings clear of party politics.
But Brown’s opponents seized on the decision to argue that the prime minister was trying to avoid drawing attention to his role in the war ahead of the contest.
Brown’s Downing Street office refused to confirm or deny a media reports that he would appear. A man at the Iraq Inquiry’s press office who declined to provide his name confirmed the reports and declined to comment further, saying a formal announcement would be made at 10 a.m. (1000GMT).
A spokeswoman for the prime minister said only that Brown had recently written to the inquiry’s head, John Chilcot, to say he was ready to testify at any time.
Brown served as Treasury chief when former Prime Minister Tony Blair threw his support behind the American effort to unseat Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The invasion split British public opinion and spawned a massive protest movement, and much remaining support for the campaign withered away as Iraq descended into chaos.
Brown has also come under criticism for allegedly depriving troops in the field of equipment. Geoff Hoon, defense secretary at the time of the invasion, said Brown’s treasury didn’t allocate enough money to the military build-up in the run-up to the war.
Brown’s Labour Party is already struggling to cling to office after 13 years in power. The opposition Conservatives have recently posted double-digit poll leads.