WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush on Thursday declared there were no more "Mandelas" left to help aid reconciliation in Iraq because former dictator Saddam Hussein had killed them all.
There could be no "instant democracy in Iraq" because "people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein's brutal rule," Bush told reporters.
Referring to former South African president Nelson Mandela, who led the fight against apartheid to become a symbol of reconciliation and hope, Bush said of Iraq: "I heard somebody say, 'Now where's Mandela?'"
"Well, Mandela is dead. Because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas."
The former Iraqi dictator, who was executed in December after his trial on charges of crimes against humanity, was "a brutal tyrant that divided people up and split families. And people are recovering from this," Bush said.
"So there is the psychological recovery that is taking place and it is hard work for them."
During key testimony earlier this month, US Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, told Congress that Saddam had created a "pervasive climate of fear" across Iraq.
"No Nelson Mandela existed to emerge on the national political scene, anyone with his leadership talents would not have survived," he said.
"A new Iraq had to be built almost literally from scratch and the builders in most cases were themselves reduced to their most basic identity, ethnic or sectarian."
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mandela, now 89, spent 27 years in prison before being freed in 1990 and becoming South Africa's first black leader in 1994 after the fall of apartheid.
He stepped down as South Africa's president in 1999 and from public life in 2004 after being treated for prostate cancer three years earlier.
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