Human shields plan collapsing
By David Blair in Baghdad
Demoralised "human shields" in Iraq faced the collapse of their plans yesterday after the Baghdad regime ordered them to deploy at possible targets or leave the country.
Nine of the 11 British peace activists who arrived in Baghdad aboard two London buses have already left after barely a week in Iraq. Others may follow today, when a deadline set by the government expires.
Abdul al-Hashimi, head of Saddam Hussein's Peace and Solidarity Organisation, ordered the volunteers to disperse to nine sites in Baghdad or leave. Most of the activists thought that they would be "shielding" schools or hospitals, but the sites on Mr al-Hashimi's list include power stations, oil refineries and water purification plants.
"We had been told we would go to humanitarian sites, specifically hospitals," said Ken O'Keefe, a former US marine who has emerged as the informal leader of the activists. "But we've now been told that we can't go to those places. The human shields strategy will not work under these circumstances. The level of trust is not present now."
Asked if the human shields would deploy to Mr al-Hashimi's chosen sites, Mr O'Keefe replied: "No we won't, not in this capacity. If the choice is deploy or leave, then we'll leave."
About 200 human shields have arrived in Baghdad from the West, but most have done nothing except fill rooms at the middle-ranking Andalus Hotel and attend meetings of an extensive array of committees, including one covering "spiritual healing".
Some dispersed to dormitories at Baghdad South power station and the al-Daura oil refinery, but even they are trickling away in twos and threes.
Four Britons lasted just seven days at the power station. Their beds in the dormitory occupied by the 11 remaining human shields are empty.
"They were afraid so they have gone," said Assad al-Issa, a 32-year-old Syrian who has every intention of staying. "They were very good friends, very good people and we miss them."