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Mandela criticised Blair's Iraq decision

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 September 2010

Nelson Mandela felt so betrayed by Tony Blair's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, that he launched a verbal attack against him in a phone call to a Cabinet minister.

Nelson Mandela criticised Tony Blair's Iraq decision (Reuters)

The former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela apparently called Peter Hain, a lifelong anti-Apartheid campaigner and friend of Mandela, to protest against Mr Blair's decision to take military action in 2003 against Iraq.

According to the former Cabinet minister, Mr Mandela was "breathing fire" down the line in protest at the invasion.

Mr Hain, who reveals the details of the phone call in a new biography of the African leader, Mandela: The Story of a Universal Hero, claims Mandela was concerned that all the good work done by Blair's government to help Africa and elsewhere was "blown out of the water", by taking military action.

Mr Hain said the criticisms were made in a formal phone call to the then Welsh Secretary's office, not in a private capacity and the Blair was informed of his feelings.

Mr Hain said: "He rang me up when I was a Cabinet minister in 2003, after the invasion.

"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.

Mr Hain, who is a family friend of Mandela said: "He was always full of praise for the way our government had trebled the overseas aid and development budget for Africa."

Mandela was also pleased at the interventions in Sierra Leone and Bosnia and work to secure the ban on landmines, he said.

"He just felt that all of this had been completely blown out of the water by the Iraq invasion.

"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."

Mr Hain said he told Mr Mandela that he respected his feelings but that the prime minister "acted out of conviction".

"I think I said we would simply have to judge it historically whether it was the right decision. But he was adamant that we could not wait for history."

Mr Hain grew up in South Africa, where his anti-Apartheid campaigner parents knew Mr Mandela who he now describes as "a friend and a hero".

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