Britain protected US interests in Iraq inquiry: WikiLeaks

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The previous British government restricted the reach of an inquiry into the Iraq war to protect US interests, The Times newspaper claimed Wednesday.

The Chilcot inquiry was set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to pinpoint lessons from the war, but a memo released on the WikiLeaks website revealed that a senior British defence official promised the US it would defend its concerns.

At a meeting with US under-secretary Erin Tauscher and then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Jon Day, Ministry of Defence director-general for security, said "the UK had 'put measures in place to protect your interests'."

A senior source told Wednesday's Times that the protection would be "for US intelligence documents supplied before the war.

"They could not be brought to light because of the damage that would do to the special relationship's crown jewels -- intelligence exchange with the US," the source added.

The leaked cable was sent from the US embassy in London in September last year, three months before the inquiry, chaired by John Chilcot, commenced.

As the inquiry began Chilcot spoke of his "frustration" about lack of access to key documents while interviewing former attorney-general Peter Goldsmith, The Times reported.

An inquiry spokesman said Tuesday: "The Iraq Inquiry is independent of the British Government.

"The protocol agreed between the Iraq Inquiry and the Government allows for material to be withheld from publication if publication would damage international relations or breach the third party rule governing non-disclosure of intelligence material."

Further embarrassment was heaped upon the previous government when another memo leaked from the embassy showed Brown, whose Labour government was ousted in May, had mistakenly told US President Barack Obama that Britain could provide no more troops for Afghanistan.

In September 2009, US ambassador in London Louis Susman told Washington that British "military officials claim that 1,000 to 2,000 troops are available," contradicting Brown's assertion to Obama that it "lacked the capacity."

Susman was vindicated in December when Britain increased its troop presence in the war-torn country by 500.

© 2010 AFP

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