LONDON (Reuters) -- A large part of an inquiry into Britain's involvement in the Iraq war may now be held in public after the head of the inquiry backed open hearings.
Former top civil servant John Chilcot, who was asked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to chair the inquiry, said he was consulting opposition leaders and senior members of parliament about the best format for the investigation.
"I believe 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...evidence from witnesses," Chilcot said in a letter to Brown.
Brown announced the inquiry last week in a move seen as an attempt to heal some of the rifts in his Labour Party caused by the decision to join the U.S.-led invasion six years ago.
But his initial decision to hold the hearings in private caused an outcry. After opponents accused Brown of a cover-up, the prime minister's office backtracked, saying it did not feel strongly about whether the inquiry was in public or private.
In a reply to Chilcot, Brown said he believed the inquiry would be able to hold some sessions in public while not compromising national security.
Relatives of the 179 British service members killed in Iraq will also be able to give their views about how the inquiry should be conducted, he said.
Brown is seeking to reverse poor poll ratings ahead of a parliamentary election due within a year which the opposition centre-right Conservatives are strong favourites to win.
The Iraq inquiry is not expected to report before the election due by June 2010.
Under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britain sent 45,000 troops to join the invasion to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The coalition accused Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction, but none were found.
Britain is in the process of withdrawing its remaining troops from southern Iraq.