Human Shields Assume The Position
We don't want to shield Iraqi army, say British
The first Western "human shields" will take up their places at strategic sites around Iraq today as dissent among them grows about the nature of the targets they are being asked to protect.
Fifteen volunteers from the first 200 shields are moving into a bunker at the South Baghdad Electricity Plant in an effort to deter attack by America and its allies. However some of the shields yesterday questioned Iraq's selection of the power plant, after discovering that it is situated next to an army base.
Since the shields' first visit to examine their new quarters, sandbags and unmanned check points had been erected around the plant. Asked about the neighbouring Rasheed military base, an Iraqi official said: "Don't worry, it is a small army camp."
The Iraqi government has drawn up a list of other sites that it wants shields to protect. These include water purification plants, communication centres, food stores, historic monuments and oil refineries.
Yesterday Iraqi officials gave way to pressure from disgruntled volunteers, and agreed to place some at the schools, hospitals and old people's homes where they had hoped to defend the civilian population against possible attack. Divisions between the volunteers and their Baghdad hosts had opened up during a meeting with Iraqi officials last Thursday. Rick Pruttwein, 28, from London, who runs summer camps for underprivileged children, told them he wanted to stay in an orphanage, capitalising on his work in Britain.
The officials, however, said that he could be better used at more strategically important targets. "There are maybe 40 or 50 children in the orphanage, which is in an area of maybe 200,000-300,000 civilians," said Abdul Razak Al Hashimi, president of the Organisation of Friendship, Peace and Solidarity in Iraq.
"If you go to a water purification plant instead, that will help many thousands more people - including children - to have clean water to drink. That is a priority. Every house in the area is under threat if the infrastructure is damaged."
One shield who has agreed to move into the bunker in the South Baghdad Electricity Plant is Godfrey Meynell, 68, a former high sheriff of Derbyshire and a veteran of the Colonial Office in Aden, south Yemen.
He has appealed to the RAF not to kill him. "I am an old man and they know I am here," he said. "If they bomb this site, they will be deliberately targeting me too."
The electricity plant has been rebuilt after being destroyed by four missiles during the Gulf war in 1991. One landed just yards from the heart of the complex, an area now converted into basic accommodation.
At present, Mr Meynell is staying in a hotel in Baghdad as a guest of the Iraqi government. For the foreseeable future, his group will live in the confined space of a dark and depressing dormitory, adorned by nylon drapes, brown velour curtains and a large framed portrait of Saddam Hussein dressed in military uniform. Steel, hospital-style beds line both walls.
Ube Evans, 50, a stagehand from Dublin, said that those staying in the plant would be relying on their own food and water supplies to survive in very basic living conditions.
"We are taking bottled water and some food with us," he said. "We hope to beg or borrow some cooking rings so that we can be as self-sufficient as possible.
"I imagine that we will take it in turns to go into the centre of town in order to have a shower, and that will happen every four to five days. We hope to spend the days liaising with the workers at the power plant and integrating with the local community by visiting schools and homes."
Yesterday, the volunteers who will move into the plant - who include Algerians, South Africans, Finns, Turks and two Russians from Siberia - painted a large sign bearing the human shield emblem on its roof, to alert fighter pilots to their presence.
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