LONDON - A first wave of mainly Western volunteers will leave London this weekend on a convoy bound for Iraq to act as "human shields" at key sites and populous areas in case of a U.S.-led war on Baghdad.
"The potential for white Western body parts flying around with the Iraqi ones should make them think again about this imperialist oil war," organizer Ken Nichols, a former U.S. marine in the 1991 Gulf War, told Reuters.
His "We the People" organization will be sending off a first group of 50 human shields from the London mayor's City Hall building Saturday, part of a series of departures organizers say will involve hundreds, possibly thousands, of volunteers.
Nichols' planned human shield convoys are one of several such efforts around the world to mobilize activists in Iraq as a deterrent against military strikes on Baghdad.
In Bucharest, more than 100 Romanian diehard communists said Tuesday they would travel by bus to Iraq to act as human shields in case of a U.S. attack.
Members of the tiny Romanian Workers Party, which took the mantle of ousted dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's defunct Communist party in 1995, said they would set off next month to support "the cause of the people."
The new human shield plans revive memories of the 1991 Gulf War when President Saddam Hussein forcibly held thousands of Western hostages after his invasion of Kuwait.
Many were put near sensitive sites in a bid to stop attacks that proved futile, although there are not thought to have been any casualties among the Western hostages.
Baghdad also used Iraqis, alongside some foreign volunteers, as shields in 1998 against U.S.-British bombing.
Nichols' groups intend to drive through Europe and the Middle East en route to Iraq. The first will travel in a pair of double-decker buses, led by a car with a white peace flag on it.
"We are on the verge of something big," said volunteer Christiaan Briggs, 26, from New Zealand. He argued that the stream of human shield volunteers was symptomatic of radicalizing anti-war opinion around the world.
"People know this is wrong. It is just so blatantly transparent how the U.S. is trying to impose its hegemony."
"We the People" organizers said the self-financing human shield volunteers had come forward from a range of Western nations including the United States, Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Denmark.
There were also some volunteers from Muslim nation Turkey.
The major rallying point for Muslims, however, is in Iraq's neighbor Jordan. There, a campaign led by leftist parties and civic bodies is seeking 100,000 shield volunteers.
Baghdad has welcomed the plans, but volunteers smart at suggestions that they are handing a propaganda gift to Saddam.
Washington and London are sending troops to the Gulf and threatening military action against Saddam unless he admits to possessing weapons of mass destruction and disarms.
"It's laughable to say that we are working for Saddam when it was the UK and the U.S. who gave him his biological and other weapons in the first place," Nichols said.
"The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. The biggest threat to world security at this moment is (U.S. President) George W. Bush."
Nichols said his involvement in the human shield program was in part "penance" for his participation in the Gulf War when a U.S.-led force drove Saddam's troops out of Kuwait.
But those forcibly used as human shields by Saddam in the past are stunned others are volunteering to do it.
"Putting yourself in danger is not going to help at all," said John Nicol, a British air force flyer shot down in 1991 and later paraded on Iraqi television. He was moved around by the Iraqis to various potential targets and experienced allied bombing nearby.
"I doubt it would be a deterrent to any attack," Nicol, a journalist and military analyst since leaving the air force, told Reuters. "I am shocked that anyone would want to put themselves in such a situation."
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd