Tony Blair and George Bush (photo) were branded war criminal by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who called for both men to be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, for their role in the Iraq war.
The former British and US leaders are accused of lying about weapons of mass destruction by Mr Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement.
According to Mr Tutu the invasion of Iraq left the world more destabilised and divided “than any other conflict in history”.
The US and UK-led action to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003 created the backdrop for the civil war in Syria and a possible wider Middle East conflict with Iran, he wrote in the Observer.
He said: “The then leaders of the United States and Great Britain fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.”
“On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague,” he says.
The ICC hears cases on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far 16 cases have been brought before the court, although only one has been completed. Earlier this year, Thomas Lubanga, a rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for his part in war crimes in his country.
Serbian general Ratko Mladic and former DRC military commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo are among the trials currently under way.
The ICC also issued arrest warrants for several suspects, such as Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, and Muammar Gaddafi’s second son Saif.
‘Basis of a lie’
Archbishop Tutu said there appeared to be different standards for prosecuting African leaders than western ones, arguing that the death toll during and after the war in Iraq alone was enough for Tony Blair and George Bush to face action.
“Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?”
“If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?”
Last week the long time critic of the Iraq war pulled out of a South African conference on leadership because Mr Blair was attending.
Tony Blair contested Mr Tutu in a statement, saying that Iraq was a more prosperous country now than it had been under Saddam Hussein.
“I have a great respect for Archbishop Tutu’s fight against apartheid – where we were on the same side of the argument – but to repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.
“And to say that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre. We have just had the memorials both of the Halabja massacre, where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, and that of the Iran-Iraq war where casualties numbered up to a million including many killed by chemical weapons.
“In addition, his slaughter of his political opponents, the treatment of the Marsh Arabs and the systematic torture of his people make the case for removing him morally strong. But the basis of action was as stated at the time.
“In short, this is the same argument we have had many times with nothing new to say. But surely in a healthy democracy people can agree to disagree.
“I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra.”