BAGHDAD - If the invasion that the Pentagon has dubbed
"Operation Shock and Awe" commences, Charlie Liteky is unlikely to feel
He expects the United States to bomb Iraq. He expects noise and
destruction more powerful and frightening than he has ever known. He
expects the Earth to shake and houses to go dark and children to scream
Ex-U.S. Army Captain
Congressional Medal of Honor
But Liteky sounds more determined than frightened.
Like 20 other members of the Chicago-based Iraq Peace Team who
remain in Baghdad even as hostilities appear certain, Liteky abhors
cluster bombs, cruise missiles and the civil unrest that combat causes.
As a decorated Vietnam veteran, he knows firsthand the chaos and
carnage of war.
That's precisely why he sounded elated Tuesday morning when he
told his wife that the Iraqi government had extended his tourist visa
10 days and is likely to extend it again, long enough for him to help
Iraqi children through the difficult time.
Most of the peace activists who descended by the hundreds on
Baghdad this fall and winter have fled. Those who remain have no
intentions of leaving. They are anchored to the bull's-eye despite the
fact - or maybe because of it - that the World Health Organization
predicts 100,000 Iraqis could die.
"I'm here because I hear the children cry," Liteky said. "In my
mind ... I imagine the bombing and the noise and the windows shattering
and something coming down from the ceiling and children looking up and
parents grabbing them and fear being transferred from parents to
Washington has warned the activists to clear out. The Pentagon
has said its assault will leave no place in Baghdad to hide. So the
rundown hotels that enjoyed full houses as recently as February are
shuttering their windows.
At the Hotel Al-Fanar on the Tigris river, the Iraq Peace Team is
moving to the lower floors because the eight-story building is old and
seems unsteady. Its bomb shelter is a musty basement that stores the
hotel's chemical cleaning supplies.
Members of the peace team have signed an ominous-sounding
contract: "In the event of your death, you agree to your body not being
returned to your own country but being disposed of in the most
They have had awkward discussions about what to do with the
corpses that might collect around them. Wrap the dead in hotel drapes,
they decided. Pray for help.
Iraq Peace Team founder Kathy Kelly had a photo enlarged that
shows her with some of her dearest friends - the family of an Iraqi
widow and her nine children. The photo is being mailed to Kelly's
mother in Chicago.
"She can see by that photo that I am very, very happy," Kelly
said, sounding serenely calm despite the gathering storm.
On Monday, Kelly helped an Iraqi friend pack to leave. Teacher
and artist Amal Alwan rushed her three young children into a taxi and
paid $300 for the 10-hour drive from Baghdad to Damascus, Syria. Alwan
doesn't have relatives in Syria and couldn't tell the cabbie exactly
where to go.
"She doesn't have a clue where she will stay, but she can't
possibly stay in Baghdad, not with children," Kelly said. "Her house is
next to a communications center."
As Kelly spoke it was almost 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Baghdad and
she was awake reading "A Fine Balance," a novel about civil war in
India. She planned to rise six hours later for a daily prayer meeting
then go with the peace team to the United Nations offices in Baghdad.
They would hold aloft several enlarged photos of Iraqi families.
Each photo would carry a single question: "Doomed?"
"I don't have the slightest sense of not belonging exactly where
I am right now," said Kelly, 50, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize
nominee. "The thought of leaving has not even crossed my mind."
The Pentagon says the presence of U.S. pacifists will not deter
the course of war. Although there are no plans to arrest them for
violating sanctions on Iraq by traveling to Baghdad, officials
throughout the U.S. government, from the White House to the State
Department to the Pentagon, sound confused about how to best to deal
"There's not a whole lot of precedence," said Pentagon spokesman
Lt. Dan Hetlage. "It's not like you had human shields protecting the
Armed for war
Members of the Iraq Peace Team say they are as prepared for war
as they will ever be. They have "crash kits" packed neatly and set by
their hotel doors. Liteky's is the size of carryon luggage. It bulges
with bandages, antibiotics, water-purification tablets, three liters of
water, dried fruit, canned tuna, biscuits, power bars and a short-wave
He hopes to ride out Operation Shock and Awe in Baghdad's
Orphanage of the Sisters of Mother Teresa. Or at least to rush there as
soon as the bombing subsides. He's compelled to at least try to quell
the inevitable trembling of the children.
"I'd rather die doing something," he told his wife, Judy, "then
die ... in some old folks home."
Liteky, 72, is a former Roman Catholic priest and Vietnam war
hero awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for crawling under
volleys of gunfire in 1967 to rescue 23 injured U.S. soldiers.
According to Army reports, during the firefight near Phuoc-Lac
the wounded became too heavy to carry so Liteky turned onto his back in
the mud, pulled the men on top of him and crawled backward under
gunfire, using only his heels and elbows.
He's plenty scared of war, he said, but his fear is for the
When the attack comes, he said, "the most beautiful thing that can
happen for me is if I am permitted to be at the orphanage. At least I
could pick the children up, hold them, and try to let my calm and love
transfer to them."
Liteky speaks every morning to his wife 11 times zones away in
San Francisco. Since arriving in Baghdad three weeks ago, it has become
increasingly difficult to hang up the phone. On Tuesday they spoke for
40 minutes, said goodbye twice, and kept talking.
"I don't have a death wish," he said in an interview Monday. "I
have everything to live for. I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful
life back home."
Liteky and his wife have thought for a week that the invasion of
Iraq would begin sometime between March 10 and 17. So when Judy Liteky,
a math teacher at a community college, left for work on Monday, she put
a bumper sticker on her car.
"Attack Iraq? No!," it read.
"The bumper sticker made me feel just a little bit better," she
Kelly heard late Monday that the United Nations would evacuate
most of its remaining office staff on Tuesday. Still, she sounded
steadfast in her decision to stay in Baghdad, even if it meant dying.
"A lot of people are concerned for the foreigners who remain
here; you wonder if anyone is concerned for these very ordinary Iraqi
people who are going to die here," she said.
When photographer Thorne Anderson chose to travel to Baghdad with
Kelly in January to document the people and the war, he informed his
family of the trip in an email.
Anderson, who has freelanced for Gannett News Service, Newsweek,
The New York Times and other publications, said he expected a little
preaching, lots of concern, and some pleas to reconsider.
Instead, his father, the Rev. Eade Anderson of Montreat, N.C.,
was succinct in his reply.
"I've always said life shouldn't be wasted on the small things,"
he wrote in an email. "Love, Dad."
© 2003 Gannett News Service