Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the Commons he would not rule out an inquiry into the Iraq war, but "this is not the time" to make the decision.
Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell asked him to clarify his position, after the defence secretary appeared to confirm there would be an inquiry.
On Tuesday, the government saw off a cross-party bid by MPs to force an immediate inquiry to be held.
Mr Blair said such a move would have "dismayed" Iraqis and their allies.
During Tuesday's debate, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett refused to give a firm commitment to an inquiry once troops had left Iraq, saying it would send the wrong signal "at the wrong time" to Iraq.
'Slip of the tongue'
But after the vote on holding an immediate inquiry, which the government won by 298 votes to 273, Defence Secretary Des Browne told the BBC there would be an inquiry "when the time is right".
It appeared to confirm hints from ministers and a Downing Street spokesman that an inquiry would be held once troops had left Iraq - but was later dismissed as a "slip of the tongue".
At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Sir Menzies asked the prime minister to confirm whether or not there would be an inquiry.
Mr Blair replied: "We certainly do not rule out such an inquiry, and we say in our own motion that lessons must of course be learnt, and it's important always to do that. But this is not the time for such decisions.
"I think that had that motion gone though last night, it would have sent a decision that would have dismayed our coalition allies, it would have dismayed the Iraqi government, it would have heartened all those who are fighting us in Iraq.
"That's why we opposed that motion and why it is important, frankly, that we stand up and we fight those in Iraq who are trying to prevent the democratic process taking root."
Sir Menzies added: "Isn't it now the time for a British strategy based on British priorities and not one which depends on the outcome of the American elections?
"And should that strategy not now be phased withdrawal sooner rather than later?"
Mr Blair replied that British troops were in Iraq, trying to make democracy work, in accordance with a United Nations resolution "and the full support of the Iraqi government."
The Conservatives, who backed the Iraq war, supported the motion put forward by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, after the government refused to confirm that there would be an inquiry within the next year.
They favour an investigation similar to the Franks inquiry carried out after the Falklands war, involving former generals and civil servants rather than just MPs
Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the government had "made a mistake" by not making a firm commitment to hold an inquiry at some point.
Both the Lib Dems and the SNP said, despite the government win, there remained "deep unease" among MPs.