Billionaire Richard Branson thought he could prevent the American invasion of Iraq.
In March 2003, he persuaded South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Nelson Mandela to fly to Baghdad and talk Saddam Hussein into leaving the country with them. Branson was was prepared to offer Saddam millions of dollars to go into exile, according to a documentary film currently in production.
In Amir Amirani’s We Are Many, Branson says he hoped to avert the second Iraq war by flying in with Mandela and spiriting Hussein out of the country.
“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,” says Branson. “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 Johannesburg from March 17.
“Two days later, as we were planning to fly in, the bombing started, so it didn’t come to anything.”
In the film, Branson reminesces with actors Danny Glover and Tim Robbins, author Arundhati Roy and composer Brian Eno about opposing the war.
Recently it was revealed that Branson tried the same tactic with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Muagbe to resign and leave the country in 2007.
Mugabe declined despite reportedly being offered millions of dollars.