Several British and US diplomats walked out in protest of Mahathir's broadside against their countries in a speech at a national conference in Kuala Lumpur on human rights on Friday.
 
Mahathir, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years before retiring in 2003, also defended his human-rights record in government. He was often criticised for detaining suspects without trial under a security law and for the imprisonment of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
 
Mahathir decried the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians as a result of the US-led military invasion and occupation. He compared American and British actions in Iraq to rocket attacks by Israel on Palestinians, and referred to those countries as "these terrorist nations".
 
To kill and maim

"The British and American bomber pilots came, unopposed, safe and cosy in their state of the art aircraft, pressing buttons to drop bombs, to kill and maim," Mahathir said of the Iraq invasion.

Mahathir called British and US
bomber pilots 'murderers'

"And these murderers, for that is what they are, would go back to celebrate Mission Accomplished."
 
"Who are the terrorists? The people below who were bombed or the bombers? Whose rights have been snatched away?"
 
He also questioned why there was no tally of Iraqi deaths while every US soldier's killing is documented.
 
"These are soldiers who must expect to be killed. But the Iraqis who die because of the US action or the civil war in Iraq that the US has precipitated are innocent civilians who under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein would be alive," said Mahathir.

'It was a lie'

Mahathir, who when in power was a US ally in the fight against terrorism although he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted that Washington's reason for invading Iraq was that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
 
"As we all know it was a lie," he said.
 

"Who are the terrorists? The people below who were bombed or the bombers? Whose rights have been snatched away"

Mahathir Mohamad,
former Malaysian prime minister

"Worse still, the powers which are supposed to save the Iraqi people have broken international laws on human rights by detaining Iraqis and others and torturing them at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere," he said, referring to US prison camps.

British High Commissioner Bruce Cleghorn and several unidentified US officials attending the conference walked out midway through Mahathir's speech.

British and US diplomats were not immediately available for comment.
 
Very distasteful

Hamdan Adnan, a senior official with the state-backed National Human Rights Commission, described the diplomats' action as "very distasteful.

"If they claim to subscribe to the democratic process, why can't they listen?" he told The Associated Press.
 
The US accused Mahathir of rights violations when he fired Anwar as his deputy in 1998.

Anwar was arrested after leading anti-government rallies, and sentenced to 15 years in prison on corruption and sodomy charges. He was freed on appeal last year, after serving the corruption sentence.