Archbishop Desmond Tutu pulled out of a leadership summit in South Africa at the last minute because he said he could not appear on the same stage as Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who Tutu said should be tried in the Hague along with former U.S. President George Bush for war crimes in the "illegal" invasion of Iraq.
In response, Blair said that Tutu's reasoning was "bizarre" and he pointed to evidence that Iraqis had a better quality of life now than they did under Saddam Hussein'a claim that many in Iraq would likely debunk.
"This is the same argument we have had many times with nothing new to say," Blair said in a statement. "But surely in a healthy democracy people can agree to disagree."
Tutu was supposed to be appearing with Blair at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. He apologized to the organizers for his decision to withdraw so late, but said as the date grew near he felt "an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on 'leadership' with Mr. Blair."
"The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history," Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote in an editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian in which he blamed Bush and Blair for much of the current instability in the Mideast.
"Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart," Tutu wrote. "They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand'with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us."
Tutu implied that there was racist imperialism and hypocrisy at work in the world's response to international bullies.
"On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers' circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr. Bush's chief supporter, Mr. Blair confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?" Tutu wrote.
Tutu recounted Iraq's death toll on the innocent, quoting statistics from the Iraqi Body Count project, which said last year an average of 6.5 people in Iraq died every day from suicide attacks and vehicle bombs. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died since 2003, while nearly 4,500 American soldiers have been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.
"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," Tutu wrote.
But Blair responded with a strongly worded defense of his and Bush's actions in Iraq.
"To repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence [on weapons of mass destruction] is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown," Blair said in his statement.
"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."
Blair said Hussein's slaughtering of his political opponents and the torture of his own people made the case for removing him "morally strong."
"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was," he said. "And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."