LONDON — Former prime minister Tony Blair is to be called to give evidence to an inquiry into the Iraq war, officials announced on Friday, six years after he controversially backed the US-led invasion.


Blair will be among senior figures from the ruling Labour Party to go before the independent inquiry early next year, just months before the next general election in June, which the party is tipped to lose.

John Chilcot, a former civil servant who heads the inquiry, said the first five weeks of public sessions, starting on November 24, would hear from senior officials and military officers.

"We will ask them to explain the main decisions and tasks, and their involvement," Chilcot said.

"That will give us a clear understanding of how policy developed and was implemented, and what consideration was given to alternative approaches."

Families of soldiers killed in Iraq have already warned they intend to confront Blair at the hearings over his support as premier for the war.

Blair, who has vowed to cooperate "fully" with the probe, faced intense public hostility after backing then US president George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

His resulting unpopularity was one of the main factors which led to him quitting in 2007.

His successor Gordon Brown announced the probe in June, honouring a pledge to hold one after troops had pulled out of Iraq.

Brown initially said the inquiry would be held in private but was forced into an embarrassing U-turn within days. He also had to backtrack after saying it would not "apportion blame."

The inquiry will examine the circumstances leading up to Britain's decision under Blair to support the invasion, and its aftermath.

The probe will seek access to government records and will also hear from the families of the 179 British troops who died in Iraq.

Blair and government ministers will be called in January and early February. The inquiry's report will not be published until the end of 2010, or even 2011. There have already been two main official probes into elements surrounding the run-up to the invasion.