LONDON (AFP) — The head of a new inquiry into the Iraq war pledged Monday to take as much evidence as possible in public, amid concerns of a cover-up if it was conducted in private.
In a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Sir John Chilcot said he would consult with opposition leaders and senior lawmakers before deciding the exact format of the inquiry.
But he said: "It will be essential to hold as much of the proceedings of the Inquiry as possible in public, consistent with the need to protect national security and to ensure and enable complete candour in the oral and written evidence from witnesses."
Brown has come under fire since announcing the independent inquiry last week, six years after predecessor Tony Blair controversially backed the US-led invasion.
The premier said the "unprecedented" inquiry would cover the eight years from the run-up to the campaign, to the pullout of British troops next month.
But he initially said it would be held in private for "national security" reasons, infuriating many lawmakers and anti-war campaigners.
Brown's office late last week hinted at a possible U-turn on holding the inquiry in private, amid growing criticism of the behind-closed-doors plan -- including from Conservative former prime minister John Major.
Brown on Monday welcomed Chilcot's decision: holding public sessions would help "to build public confidence," he said, in a letter of response issued by his office.
A total of 179 Britons have died in Iraq since March 2003.
Brown had promised a probe after all but a handful of Britain's 4,100 troops withdraw from Iraq by an agreed date of July 31.
There have already been two official probes into elements of the Iraq war.
The 2004 Hutton inquiry looked at the suicide of David Kelly, a government scientist 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.
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