WASHINGTON -- For $2,000, you can risk your life in Baghdad.
Included in that price: round-trip airfare from the United States, ground transportation
from Jordan to Iraq, and lodging in a $10-a-night hotel where rats gnaw on the
floorboards and a cluttered basement doubles as a bomb shelter.
While the Middle East braces for war, about three dozen self-described peaceniks
will rotate into Iraq on renewable 10-day visas for as long as a threat exists.
The pacifists range in age from 25 to 77 and will put themselves in harm's
way if the United States attacks Iraq.
An Iraqi woman walks near by American anti-War activists with Voices in the Wilderness,
a Chicago-based group that campaigns against U.N. sanctions who distribute between
US$20,000-$30,000 worth of medicines at al-Mansour hospital in Baghdad, Tuesday,
Sept. 24, 2002. from right to left, Ramzi Kysia, Dr. Loai Al-Mansour hospital
director, Henry Williamson, Nathan Mauger and Bill Quigley. ( AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
"It is important for people serious about peace to take it as seriously as
the people who engage in warfare," said Claire Evans, a delegation coordinator
for Christian Peacemaker Teams, one of at least two peace groups sending volunteers
to Baghdad. "We should be as willing as the soldiers to risk our lives."
The pacifists hope their presence in Iraq as international witnesses to record
the damage -- and possibly be counted among the injured -- will persuade military
planners not to bomb civilian infrastructure, a target in the rush to disable
Iraq's military during the Persian Gulf War.
Retirees have been particularly recruited and about a dozen have agreed to
"It has some moral weight to have a group of people there like grandmothers
and grandfathers," Evans said.
The volunteers will work in Iraq with humanitarian agencies such as UNICEF
and the Red Crescent Society. In the event of a U.S. bombing, they will try to
be near likely targets such as electric plants, roads and bridges, said Kathy
Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a nonprofit organization sending
three peacekeeping groups to Baghdad.
Kelly, who has made 16 trips to Iraq, sounds unflinching. She is driven by
the tremendous collateral damage inflicted by today's weapons.
"You can't be a vegetarian only between meals," said Kelly, 49. "And you can't
be a pacifist only between wars."
She has been blunt when recruiting volunteers for this trip: "We are asking
people to be able to say they have had a good life and this could be their last
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. John A. Warden III, architect of the Desert Storm
air campaign in 1991, calls the peace effort noble but extraordinarily naive.
"It represents a gross misunderstanding of modern war," he said.
If U.S. military officials decide that demolishing Iraqi transportation, electricity
and communication is the best way to limit combat casualties, pacifists are not
likely to thwart that strategy.
Still, Warden sounded awed by their effort. The closet thing to it he could
recall was actress and activist Jane Fonda visiting prisoner-of-war camps in Hanoi
during the Vietnam War and "making common cause with North Vietnamese communists."
But like Fonda, Warden said, Kelly and her entourages are "intruding in something
they don't understand."
"It strikes me as pretty bizarre," Warden said, "that you would have Americans
going to protect one of the evilest guys in the world from getting his just desserts."
Pacifist Tom Nagy, a professor at George Washington University in Washington,
D.C., does not doubt Saddam's menace. He is not choosing sides. He only wants
to stanch the suffering of innocent Iraqis who were caught in Desert Storm's crossfire,
Nagy, 58, a Quaker-turned-Buddhist and father of one, leaves for Baghdad on
Friday. His usual lighthearted manner is brooding today, and he admits he is afraid.
He is preparing his will and has bought emergency medical evacuation insurance
that could help expedite his rescue from Iraq.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Americans and other foreigners in Iraq and
Kuwait were held hostage by Saddam and used as shields against an attack threatened
by U.S.-led allied forces. Under international pressure, Saddam freed the civilians
one month before the gulf war.
This time, the human shields are volunteers who know the dangers that lie ahead.
"The only thing that stands in the way of evil prevailing are good-hearted
people that refuse to remain quiet and indifferent," said Bill Rose, 69, a retired
postal worker from Tampa, Fla., and a father of two.
He leaves for Baghdad on Oct. 23.
"I am a Christian," he said. "I am a Quaker. I have had a good life."
Copyright 2002 The Detroit News