An American peace activist visits Baghdad's Amiriya shelter, which was bombed during the 1991 Gulf War.
Peace activists get warm welcome in Baghdad
January 15 2003
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
As Western troops head for the Gulf, anti-war activists have descended on Baghdad, seeking a solution to the showdown between President George Bush and President Saddam Hussein.
They include Italian legislators, South African Muslims, German musicians and a mix of Americans from church leaders and professors to four women who lost relatives in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. They have reasoned that the backdrop of Baghdad, where scars are still visible from the 1991 Gulf War, will strengthen their appeals.
Although most plan to leave by this weekend, others, claiming to represent hundreds of protesters in Europe, the US and neighbouring Arab nations, intend to arrive later in the month to engage in a far riskier act - they plan to become human shields, staying in hospitals, water treatment plants and other civilian installations to dissuade US commanders from bombing the facilities.
The peace delegations and the "human shield" plan have delighted Iraqi officials, who have given some of the visitors VIP treatment.
Abdelrazak Hashimi, director of the Organisation for Friendship, Peace and Solidarity, a quasi-governmental group that handles visiting delegations, said Iraq would admit those wishing to serve as human shields. "If we can prevent the war any way we can, we have the privilege and the right to do it," he said.
One group of human shields is being organised by Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a former US marine living in the Netherlands who fought in the 1991 Gulf War but later gave up US citizenship. Islamic groups in Jordan are assembling another group.
The peace groups have been taken on tours intended to highlight the devastation of the Gulf War and the economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. They saw a Baghdad bomb shelter that was incinerated by a US cruise missile and visited the cancer ward where doctors say they lack chemotherapy drugs.