- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2003

BAGHDAD Squabbling peace activists were recovering from a chaotic overland journey yesterday after limping into Iraq aboard two London buses, a day late for Saturday's worldwide series of anti-war demonstrations.
Three double-deckers, all crammed with "human shields," had set out from London on Jan. 25 to reach Baghdad in time for the day of global protests. But only two of them, with 65 activists, made it to the Iraqi capital late on Saturday.
The third bus was abandoned in Italy after breaking down. Everyone crammed aboard the others, one of which had to be dug out of snow drifts near Istanbul. Several activists dropped out on the way.
The rest endured bitterly cold weather, illness, poor living conditions and a great deal of bickering. When they arrived at Iraq's border with Syria on Friday, Iraqi officials held them overnight, which made them miss Saturday's peace demonstration in Baghdad.
"There were lots of group squabbles," said Benjamin Joffe-Walt, 23, an American paramedic. "Very few people knew each other. I did not know any of them, and it was difficult to organize it. There were lots of different ideas on when to go to bed, how long to spend on the bus."
The activists, ages from 20 to 68, slept in cheap hotels, youth hostels, tents or on the buses.
Ken O'Keefe, their informal leader and a former American Marine, burned his U.S. passport and designed himself new travel documents proclaiming him a "Citizen of the World." As a result, he was detained in three countries.
Mr. O'Keefe has yet to arrive in Baghdad, and Mr. Joffe-Walt last heard of him in Syria.
A blond Norwegian activist created a sensation in Turkey and her picture appeared on the front pages of several tabloids. A typical headline read: "Who would bomb this angel?" Mr. Joffe-Walt said: "It was not exactly the kind of coverage we were hoping for."
Peter Vandyke, a self-styled "reiki master and spiritual healer" from Portsmouth, England, drove a London taxi with the convoy. He described the journey as "horrific" and said: "A lot of people are really sick. They have been sleeping on the buses in subzero temperatures."
Mr. Vandyke, 38, served in the Royal Navy for eight years and believes there is no terrorist threat to Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair was "deliberately terrorizing his own people," he said.
Among the British contingent are a married couple, Helen and Kevin Williams, 34-year-old vegans from Newport, south Wales who kept strictly to their diet throughout the bus journey. "It was very important to us," said Mrs. Williams, who wore a T-shirt reading, "Animal Killers, close them down."
Mr. Vandyke said the group would camp inside hospitals, schools, power stations and other buildings "needed for basic human living."
He said he hoped their presence would shield the buildings from harm if war broke out.
Saddam Hussein's regime, which normally admits Westerners with great reluctance and treats them with deep suspicion, has granted the human shields three-month visas and given them freedom to go where they wish.

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