Richard Branson's Plan
To Prevent Iraq Invasion

By Richard Smith
The Mirror - UK
Sir Richard Branson tried to prevent the Iraq war in a secret deal with Nelson Mandela.
The Virgin boss hoped to send the former leader of South Africa to meet Saddam Hussein and persuade him to go into exile.
He even got United Nations chief Kofi Annan's approval for the plan, despite fears that Saddam might kidnap Mandela.
A private jet was ready to fly the Nobel Peace Prize winner to Iraq. Branson offered to join him on the peace mission. But coalition forces invaded Iraq just before they went.
Branson opposed invasion plans and believed if they could offer Saddam an escape route, bloodshed would be avoided.
He said: "I kept thinking you have to give somebody like Saddam a way out otherwise he's like a cornered animal - they have to fight.
"I thought the only person who could persuade him to step down was Mandela."
The plan was for Mandela and Saddam to fly out of Baghdad together.
Branson said: "Mandela wanted us to get Kofi Annan's blessing, which we got. We were arranging for Mandela to go to Iraq to meet Saddam and had a plane standing by in Jo'burg from March 17.
"Two days later, as we were planning to fly in, the bombing started, so it didn't come to anything."
Branson is close friends with Mandela and spent weeks trying to set up the meeting with Saddam.
Four Virgin executives were given secret instructions to help make the peace plan a success.
Virgin director Will Whitehorn said: "Richard put a tremendous amount of work into it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
"Kofi Annan was initially cautious about the idea and was worried Mandela would be taken hostage by Saddam.
"He eventually changed his mind and gave us the go-ahead. Nelson was prepared to give it a go, he thought at his age, he was expendable.
"Richard told Nelson he would go along with him if it was felt appropriate. He wasn't worried about his own safety, it wouldn't have been the most dangerous thing he's done. But the decision was being left up to Nelson.
"The plan was to try to persuade Saddam to stand down as president of the country, given the inevitability of the invasion.
"Richard was convinced Saddam was like a rabbit trapped in the headlights. But Richard thought Saddam didn't himself believe the Allies would invade.
"Richard met Saddam briefly in 1990 when he flew out to Baghdad with Sir Edward Heath to bring home 43 injured and sick hostages before the first conflict.
"He was convinced Bush would go to war in Iraq but he was always sceptical about the weapons of mass destruction. He was saddened when the plan was overtaken by events"
Branson said of the war: "It was perhaps the worst foreign policy decision since Suez. You shouldn't have to maim or kill 200,000 people to get rid of one individual."
The invasion has inspired him to set up a group of non-political figures called the Elders to help avert future conflicts.
He added: "It's in its infancy but Mandela has agreed to be the founding father."
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