Mandela 'breathed fire' over Iraq war: British ex-minister

13th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

Nelson Mandela was so upset over Britain invading Iraq in 2003 that he called a government minister and "virtually breathed fire" about why it was a mistake, the ex-minister revealed Monday.

Peter Hain, who was secretary of state for Wales in Tony Blair's Labour government at the time, recounts the phone call in his new biography of the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon, who is also a personal friend.

Speaking as the book was published, the Labour lawmaker recalled that Mandela "rang me up when I was a Cabinet minister in 2003, after the invasion" of Iraq by US and British troops.

"He said: 'A big mistake Peter, a very big mistake. It is wrong. Why is Tony doing this after all his support for Africa? This will cause huge damage internationally'.

"I had never heard Nelson Mandela so angry and frustrated.

"He clearly felt very, very strongly that the decision that the prime minister had taken -- and that I as a member of the Cabinet had been party to -- was fundamentally wrong and he told me it would destroy all the good things that Tony Blair and we, as a government, had done in progressive policy terms across the world."

Hain grew up in South Africa and his parents campaigned against the apartheid regime.

"I know Nelson Mandela quite well. He was virtually breathing fire down the phone on this and feeling a sense of betrayal. It was quite striking," he said.

The comments were made in a formal call, Hain said, adding that he relayed Mandela's sentiments to Blair.

He also tried to defend the conflict to Mandela, and Hain said that only history would judge "whether it was the right decision".

The Iraq war came to dominate Blair's 10 years in office between 1997 and 2007 and anti-war protesters still dog the former prime minister, who is now a Middle East peace envoy.

Blair had to cancel a book signing for his newly published memoirs last week in London because of planned protests.

© 2010 AFP

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