In January, Bettejo Passalaqua organized an anti-war rally in Omak.
One month later, millions around the world demonstrated for peace. But her rally in the conservative town in north central Washington drew only five others.
That was the last straw for Passalaqua, a teacher and Catholic pastoral worker on the Colville Indian Reservation. She decided to try "something radical."
"Carrying signs and writing congressmen wasn't enough," she says.
So now she demonstrates for peace in Iraq on the streets of Baghdad.
Passalaqua went to Iraq "to stand with average citizens in Baghdad," she said in a recent telephone interview. She plans to stay through the end of any war.
Passalaqua is part of one of a few groups of American and European peace activists who have come to Iraq. Their missions vary: Some say they will try to be "human shields," deploying near government and civilian targets to draw attention to the damage done to those targets.
Others, like Passalaqua, are part of a 20-person "Iraq Peace Team" sponsored by Voices in the Wilderness. The Chicago-based non-profit opposes the war well as the U.S. and U.N. economic sanctions that were imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War.
The 42-year-old grandmother of six said her group has met with U.N. and other international officials. But mostly, she and others have been filling their days by spending time with Iraqi families, volunteering and protesting.
Passalaqua flew to Amman, Jordan, in mid-January, then drove to Baghdad with other activists. She was supposed to return in February but said she felt the call to stay.
Passalaqua says she's no fan of Saddam Hussein, but she argues against the notion that Iraqis are so desperate for liberation that they are ready to endure an invasion. War, she said, will give "tens of thousands of innocent people a situation infinitely more horrendous" than they currently face.
"I do not see how bombing a city in which 46 percent of the people are under the age of 16 is the answer," she said. "I do not believe that anybody in this city wants to see bombs dropped. This will be a tremendous atrocity."
She and two others have set up an arts and crafts program at a pediatric-cancer hospital in Baghdad, where, she said, children have suffered because sanctions have kept medicines out of the country.
The Rev. Charles Peterson, a Jesuit priest who has worked with Passalaqua at the Saint Mary Mission at the Colville reservation for several years, says about half of his parishioners -- those who aren't upset that she has left them -- think she is a hero.
"She is doing something very courageous," Patterson said.
The group from the Iraq Peace Team has also been protesting the looming war.
According to Peggy Gish, an organic-vegetable farmer and peace activist from Athens, Ohio, members of the group have helped organize a march from a suburb north of Baghdad into the capital to highlight how war and the sanctions have hurt children.
They have also been hanging banners on various public sites in Baghdad that Gish said were bombed during the Gulf War, including a water-treatment plant, a power plant and schools. The large signs warn that bombing those places would be war crimes.
"Hitting those sites would be devastating to the people," said Gish, 60, in a recent phone interview from her Baghdad hotel.
Anna Bachmann of Port Townsend, who joined Passalaqua on her trip but returned in February after a two-week stay, said she had also protested against the Gulf War. But this time, she was determined to take the next step and actually go to the region to express her concerns.
"I don't want to be powerless any more," said Bachmann, 40, who earlier this week was arrested after a protest near a Navy ammunition depot on Indian Island south of Port Townsend.
The members of the Iraq Peace Team, according to a Voices in the Wilderness press release, range in age from 25 to 73, and come from places as disparate as Downers Grove, Ill., and Seoul, South Korea. They are ministers and postal workers and writers. All but five are Americans.
Passalaqua's is not the only group that has visited, or plans to stay, in Iraq for the possible war. There are at least four others from Washington state, including Bachmann, who have visited and returned in the last several months. Groups of American ministers have also visited.
Human shields from several countries are staying at the Baghdad South Power Plant trying to prevent its being bombed. But about a dozen peace activists who went to Iraq to serve as shields returned home earlier this month, fearing for their safety.
Those protesters were among a group of mostly European activists who drove from London to Baghdad in two double-decker buses in February, intending to guard civilian sites from a U.S.-led military attack.
U.S. government and military officials have harshly criticized the various peace campaigners in Iraq, especially the human shields, saying they are dupes who are doing little but giving aid to Saddam and his regime.
They say that intentionally or not, the activists are assisting a dictator who wantonly has killed and tortured tens of thousands of his own people and rules with a vicious will.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of all U.S. forces in the gulf region, said at a recent news conference that allied forces would not be able to assure the safety of civilians, including Americans, who are human shields.
The U.S. and allied forces would do everything they could to avoid civilian deaths, Franks said, but he noted that wars inevitably result in such tragedies.
Passalaqua said that although her group will not be working as shields, she and others clearly could be in danger should war break out.
The hotel where she is staying, the Al Fanar, is near the Tigris River in south central Baghdad -- relatively close to sites allied forces could be interested in bombing, she said.
Moreover, Passalaqua wrote in a recent diary entry to stateside friends, there is the possibility that if war starts, angry Iraqis could look to take vengeance against any Westerners they can find -- including peace workers.
Passalaqua said her group has stocked up on food and water and has had first-aid training. She says she's prepared for the possibility that she may die there.
"I don't dwell on it," she said. "I'm realistic, but just as soldiers have to risk their own lives, we have to be able to risk our lives for peace."
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