British leader Gordon Brown won't testify before his country's investigation of the Iraq war until after the next general election, the committee behind the inquiry said Wednesday.
The Iraq Inquiry, which is investigating the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, said Brown and other senior ministers wouldn't be quizzed until after the poll in an effort to keep proceedings clear of party politics.
"The committee believes that only after the general election can these ministers give their evidence fully without the hearings being used as a platform for political advantage," it said in a statement.
A general election _ which is widely expected to sweep Brown's ruling Labour Party out of office _ must be held some time before the middle of 2010.
The decision to delay Brown's testimony was criticized by Britain's two leading opposition parties.
Britain's Liberal Democrats said it appeared that John Chilcot, who was appointed by Brown to lead the inquiry earlier this year, was sparing the prime minister a potential embarrassment ahead of a tough election.
"This looks like a deal cooked up ... to save Gordon Brown and his ministers from facing the music," Liberal Democrat lawmaker Edward Davey said in a statement.
"Brown signed the checks for the Iraq war, and he should explain that decision before polling day," he added, referring to Brown's tenure as treasury chief at the time of invasion.
The opposition Conservatives, who unlike the Liberal Democrats supported the invasion, also criticized the inquiry's decision.
Critics of the invasion had long demanded an investigation into whether the war, which has been extremely unpopular in Britain, was illegal. Many were disappointed when it was announced that the inquiry had no power to apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability. The easygoing tone of questioning has also been criticized.
Its mandate is limited to offering recommendations on how to prevent a repeat of the mistakes that dogged the invasion and its bloody aftermath.
Still, it remains the most sweeping investigation of its kind by any nation involved in the war, and it is the first time that many senior officials _ including British ambassadors to Washington, top foreign policy advisers, spy masters and military chiefs _ have had to answer publicly for their role in the conflict.
In the first few weeks of testimony, some senior British officials have been extremely critical of the way U.S. officials handled the situation in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Most eagerly anticipated is the testimony from Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, a man whose reputation was badly tarnished by his close alliance with former President George W. Bush.
The inquiry said Blair would be called to testify sometime in January or early February.
Also being called to answer questions around the same time are Alastair Campbell, Blair's top spin doctor, and Blair's Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, whose advice on the legality of the war was deeply controversial.
Other witnesses to testify early next year include:
_Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, both former British foreign ministers.
_Des Browne, Geoffrey Hoon, and John Hutton, all former defense ministers.
_Jonathan Powell, Blair's then chief of staff.
_Clare Short, the international development minister who quit Blair's cabinet in disgust over the war.
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