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Rebuilding Iraq

Westerners taking on role of human shields

By David Filipov, Globe Staff, 2/27/2003

BAGHDAD - Even in the best of times, the decrepit jumble of pipes, smokestacks, and soot that make up Baghdad's Al-Daurra oil refinery would make for dubious living quarters.

But with a US-led war against Iraq looming, the group of Westerners who moved into the heavily guarded site yesterday placed themselves in the center of what has to be one of the biggest bull's-eyes in the capital. And that is just the way they wanted it.

The 13 Americans and Europeans are ''human shields,'' people who have accepted invitations from Baghdad to place themselves in facilities that may come under fire in an effort to prevent a war.

They have chosen well. US and British planes hit the refinery hard during the 1991 Gulf War, and the expectation here is that America and its allies would strike Al-Daurra again in any attack on Iraq. US commanders are making it increasingly clear they will not let the presence of ''human shields'' deter them in choosing targets, drastically raising the stakes for civilians who have chosen this extreme form of antiwar protest.

Do the ''human shields'' plan to become human sacrifices to make their point?

''I don't know a single person here who wants to die,'' said Dan Pepper, a 23-year-old freelance photographer from Cleveland, as he rode a bus with other ''human shields'' through Baghdad on the way to the Al-Daurra site. ''This isn't about dying. It's about making a political statement through putting your body in a strategic location.''

''We're here to prevent the war,'' he said.

Others are not so circumspect.

''If they have to kill Iraqis, they have to kill us,'' Karl Dallas, 72, a songwriter from Bradford, England, said as he ''deployed'' - the shields' term for what they do - at a Baghdad water-purification plant.

Pepper said the protesters had consulted with local United Nations staff to find sites - water purification plants, orphanages, hospitals, and power plants - that were vital for civilian life in the city and had no military purpose.

But rumors abound of Iraqi military installations embedded beneath the capital's civilian infrastructure. The Al-Rashid Hotel, where many foreign correspondents are staying, has long been rumored to be the site of a secret underground bunker.

A US defense official, who spoke to reporters yesterday in Washington on condition of anonymity, said the positioning of military equipment in civilian areas has been ''growing considerably,'' particularly in Baghdad. ''We've seen every level of Iraqi military forces use these tactics,'' he said. ''The Iraqis are getting more sophisticated.''

Also yesterday, the Pentagon released an eight-page report from the CIA on Saddam Hussein's use of human shields and other efforts to put civilian facilities at risk of US bombing. ''The Iraqis have constructed new military revetments for armored equipment adjacent to schools, mosques, food warehouses, and civilian housing areas in numerous populated areas,'' according to the report.

The US general who would command any attack against Iraq said American and allied forces could not assure the safety of civilians who deliberately position themselves as human shields against attack on Iraqi targets.

''We'll do our best to avoid noncombatant casualties and, I will tell you, we will not be 100 percent successful,'' Army General Tommy R. Franks, the commander of US Central Command, told The Associated Press yesterday from Qatar.

Franks struck an emotional note in castigating the Iraqi regime for putting civilians in harm's way.

''In the first case, it's a violation of international law,'' Franks said. ''Any time there is encouragement by a regime to cover targets with humans - noncombatant humans - my gracious, that's a violation of every sort of conduct that I think people in the free world can identify with.'' The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 state that civilians should not be ''used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.''

Yesterday in Baghdad, the protesters, many of whom wore bright T-shirts with the words ''human shield,'' laughed off Franks' remarks.

''What would you expect the American generals to say?'' said Stephan Lenzinger, a German student who had been studying in Damascus, Syria, when he decided to join the ''human shields'' in Baghdad. ''The fact that they even talk about us is already something. It means we are on their agenda. We are trying to annoy them as much as possible.''

Iraqi officials, meanwhile, clearly hold the ''human shields'' in high regard. A journalist might spend weeks trying to get permission to visit Al-Daurra, but the human shields' blue coach sailed right through the checkpoints, manned by dozens of plainclothes security guards armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, to a barracks decked out with a banner proclaiming ''Well Come For Our Great Visitor.''

The Iraqi general manager of the refinery, Dathar al-Keshab, welcomed the protesters as ''peacemakers,'' although he expressed doubt that their presence would prevent an attack on the refinery. Keshab, a lively man with excellent English and a dirty blue work coat, was here in 1991, when US and British airstrikes caused a blaze that took 2,500 workers 42 days to put out.

Patching together the refinery took nine months. Al-Daurra - built by US and British oil concerns in 1955 - still looks pretty badly banged up, but the facility can refine 60,000 barrels of oil per day - fuel, Keshab said, that is vital for Baghdad's public transportation, heating, and hospitals.

What concerns Keshab even more are Al-Daurra's 27,000 employees and their families, who live in 300 apartment buildings just a few yards away from the refinery's machinery.

''If the president of the US puts any value on his citizens and citizens of Europe, it should be effective that they are here,'' Keshab said. ''But if he cares about American lives the way he cares about Iraqi lives, it will not work.''

Keshab said he and his workers would have to stay at the site no matter what happened. But he insisted the shields would be free to go if they wanted.

Pepper said many of the protesters, an informal group who boarded two buses that departed from London and picked up passengers during the 23-day drive to Baghdad, had not made up their minds whether they would stay at their sites if war breaks out.

He said the shields were under no obligation to stay once the bombing starts and that the protest's organizers - among them Ken O'Keefe, a US veteran of the Gulf War - were encouraging anyone who had doubts to pick up an Iranian visa to ensure an escape route. Though Pepper admitted to having wondered whether Iraqi authorities might ''gather us up and take us to places by force,'' he said he had received no indication that this would happen.

''The whole point is, until the bombers take off, to make as loud a political noise as possible, and then limit the attacks against civilian sites if war does break out,'' Pepper said.

Globe correspondent Bryan Bender contributed to this report from Washington.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 2/27/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.





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