- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan
Nathan Chapman made the arduous journey to Iraq last week intending to help impoverished civilians, defend orphanages against U.S.-led bombing and make a political statement against a war he passionately believes would be wrong.
By yesterday afternoon, he was back in Amman, convinced that his sacrifices would amount to nothing in Baghdad. After only five days in Iraq with more time spent in meetings than in clinics he felt compelled to turn back.
"No humanitarian sites were made available to us," said Mr. Chapman, a delicate 20-year-old Englishman who sold everything he had to make the trip to Iraq. "It was clear they wouldn't be."
Mr. Chapman is one of an estimated 200 or more Americans, Canadians, Australians and Europeans who have arrived in Baghdad in recent weeks to act as voluntary human shields prepared to defend civil and humanitarian structures with their lives, if necessary.
About half of those have already left the country in frustration, angered that the Iraqi government demanded they leave low-risk targets, such as hospitals, and instead cluster around electrical plants, water-pumping stations and communications centers, which serve significant military as well as civilian purposes.
On Friday, the head of Sweden's largest peace organization urged the human shields to leave, saying they were being used for propaganda purposes by Saddam Hussein.
The sites chosen by the Iraqi government for the shields are on a list of sensitive locations prepared by the U.N. Development Program, "so it's not like the ones who stayed are guarding military targets," Mr. Chapman said. "But if you go out to a water plant, all you do is sit there, and I really wanted to help the people."
Mr. Chapman, who left Norfolk, England, less than a month after discovering the human shield movement, said he is disappointed, but not surprised, that the Iraqi government would not let him work at purely humanitarian sites.
"Some people thought that once they got there, everything would be all right," he said. "Like they didn't know what the Iraqi government is like."
Iraq has established a Friendship, Peace and Solidarity Office to facilitate visas for the volunteers, ferry them in buses from Amman and pay for their Baghdad hotel rooms. Participants say Iraq is growing impatient to see a better return on its investment.
"They wanted to see more of the shields at strategic sites," said Shane Mulligan, a Canadian organizer for HumanShields.org, one of several groups that has tried to bring Westerners to Baghdad to protest the war.
No one in Baghdad seems to know how many peace activists have made the journey in recent weeks, or how many of those have left. Even those in the thick of coordinating the effort say the grass-roots movement is very loosely organized.
Among the Westerners roaming Iraq now are religious groups, peace activists, solidarity seekers, and human shields those who are so committed to preventing a war that they are, effectively, daring their own governments to kill them as well as Iraqi civilians.
Mr. Chapman is one of several activists who scraped together the roughly $1,700 to cover air fare, lodging, food and other expenses for a trip that could have lasted days, months or forever.
"I sold everything I had to do this, and … I guess it could be a one-way trip," he said last week, before he boarded the bus for the 16-hour ride across Iraq's western desert to Baghdad. "We know what we are doing. We are all prepared."
Back in Amman yesterday, however, he acknowledged that few of his comrades seemed to understand the gravity of what they were doing. Many seemed to view it as an excellent adventure, rather than the ultimate sacrifice.
"OK, honestly, I was terrified the whole time I was there. There could be civil war, getting killed, being taken hostage by the government, being mentally destroyed, all kinds of things," he said. "I don't think they did have that understanding."
Introspective, soft-spoken and articulate, Mr. Chapman said he had a hard time explaining his decision to his American businessman father and British mother, who works for the National Health Service.
After a fair amount of worry, he said, they are proud of him.
Mr. Chapman, who operates a Britain-based Web site (www.0001000.org) to document the war on terror, said last week that he believes in direct action to protect the innocent.
But he said yesterday that he has no patience for the marches and meetings that seemed to take up the bulk of his time in Baghdad.
"I didn't see a lot, honestly," he said.
He went to nightly meetings with other shields and accompanied HumanShields.org founder Ken Nichols O'Keefe on interviews.
He also bought a baggy, green three-button suit in a market, and was surprised to discover Internet cafes, stores and restaurants just like in other densely populated cities.
Now that he is back in Amman, Mr. Chapman wants to get his hands dirty helping with the expected flood of Iraqi refugees when the war starts.
If Washington and London do invade Iraq, Mr. Chapman plans to renounce his U.S. and British citizenships. "I will absolutely, definitely do that. There is an organization and you can do it officially, become a world citizen," he said with contentment.

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