A federal parliamentary inquiry will be held into the accuracy of Australia’s intelligence on Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction before the outbreak of war.

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Most Australian Democrats Senators today voted to support the Labor Party’s call for the inquiry to be conducted by the main parliamentary committee that deals with intelligence issues.

The committee comprises seven politicians — four from the government, and three Labor.

The Democrats’ leader Andrew Bartlett says it’s now up to Labor to ensure the inquiry isn’t conducted behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny.

He says he’s concerned the Attorney-General Daryl Williams could block certain individuals from appearing before the inquiry and giving evidence.

“We do fear that this committee is established by legislation which in one sense gives it strength but it also has ability in the legislation for the minister to not approve public hearings, or for the minister to suggest to say that certain people shouldn’t give evidence. So that is a real concern to us, that if the government refuses to co-operate they could make it very difficult even to get witnesses or to have any sort of public hearings at all”.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, says not enough time has been given to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the inquiry is merely an attempt to damage his Government.

“I think, it’s altogether too early to be running into these things now and I think it’s driven by a political opportunism and not a genuine search for the truth”.

The Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, says Mr Howard may be trying to silence the intelligence chiefs before the inquiry gets underway.

“What the Prime Minister is seeking to do is create a tension for the officials who head these agencies and how they discharge their professional responsibilities as public servants in answering the joint intelligence committee of the parliament, which has been established by law to provide oversight of them”.

The inquiry follows concerns that Australia’s decision to go to war against Iraq could have been based on flawed intelligence about its weapons capability.

Similar inquiries are already underway in the United States and Britain.

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