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 Monday, 9 September, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Briton volunteers as 'human shield' for Iraq
Matt Barr
Matt Barr: "Iraqi people are as human as we are"
It's not only Iraqi lives that could be at stake if the UK goes to war with Baghdad. One British peace activist is planning to put his life on the line, as a "human shield".

In the UK there is little appetite for a war with Iraq, according to the opinion polls. But few who oppose military conflict would go to the same lengths as Matt Barr.

If Tony Blair gives the green light for bombing raids, the 21-year-old peace activist plans to be on the first flight out to Baghdad.

I couldn't just stand by and watch this happen

Matt Barr
As part of a "peace delegation", Mr Barr hopes his presence would deter American and British bombers.

His primary role would be to "show solidarity" with the Iraqi people and "bear witness" to the war.

But with plans to visit key installations such as power stations and sewage works, the 21-year-old from Chichester, West Sussex, could also become a "human shield" against the Western forces.

The scenario harks back to the Gulf War of 1991, when Saddam Hussein detained hundreds of British expatriates and placed them at key installations as human shields.

Oppose sanctions

So far, Mr Barr is the only British volunteer to sign up to the mission. He expects to be joined by about 200 American peace volunteers.

Stuart Lockwood and Saddam Hussein
1991: Five-year-old 'human shield' Stuart Lockwood
The delegation is being organised by Voices in the Wilderness, a charity which campaigns for an end to economic sanctions against Iraq.

"When you are participating in a non-violent resistance movement there comes a point where, personally, I have to be willing to put your whole self into the firing line," says Mr Barr.

Having visited Iraq in December last year and met many "ordinary people", Mr Barr says he feels "passionately that I couldn't just stand by and watch this happen".

"The mass of people in Britain are opposed to this war but that's not having any effect on Tony Blair, which is not how democracy works."

'Many would die'

Sanctions imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War of 1991 have had a devastating effect on its people, according to Voices in the Wilderness.

Weapons inspectors leaving Baghdad
War is on the cards after weapons inspectors left Iraq
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have died as result of being denied adequate food, clean water and medical facilities, the charity says.

"Another war with Iraq would be catastrophic for the ordinary people," says Mr Barr. "Tens of thousands of people, whose livelihoods are already hanging by a thread, would suffer. The people of Iraq are as human as we are, and yet many would die."

Mr Barr rejects claims that he is signing up to a suicide mission. Whether he would simply visit key destinations, such as water purification plants, or stay there longer term has yet to be decided by the charity, he says.

But a campaign co-ordinator in the United States, Kathy Kelly, has said volunteers should be prepared to face up to the fact "this could be the last year of their life".

Saddam 'hands-off'

The planned trip has the reluctant sanction of Mr Barr's parents.

Iraqis protest against sanctions
Sanctions have killed thousands, according to some
"It's difficult for my family. Obviously my parents are worried about what might happen to me. But they know my strength of feeling on this and that it's what I have to do."

Voices in the Wilderness grew out of the Gulf War when Western peace activists opposed to the war camped in the desert on the border with Iraq.

A committed human rights activist, Mr Barr, who is a trained sound engineer, devotes much of his time to volunteer charity work.

Is he worried the delegation could be "hijacked" by Saddam Hussein and activists such as himself used as hostages?

No, he says. The fact that those peace activists on the border were not allowed into Iraq into 1991, says Mr Barr, leaves him confident Baghdad will keep a hands-off attitude to the delegation, letting them go about their own business.

Some of your comments:

I don't think it is necessary to go to Iraq to protest. I'm surprised that there haven't been any mass protests in London yet, given the feelings of the majority of the people. I for one would join a protest march through London.
Chris Hurst, UK

Why not - as long as they don't expect the US or UK governments to go in and rescue them if war does happen.
Theresa, UK

If they think that their paltry presence will do anything to stop a war, then they are truly naive.
Peter Harrington, United Kingdom

It is their own choice. There is no right or wrong. If someone feels they have to do it, then that is their choice to make.
Sandra, UK

I think anti-war protesters are the bravest people out there and should go fight for this cause. Shame on us for a supporting military campaign in Iraq.
Harris Martin, London, UK

If Mr Barr wants to stop the suffering of the Iraqi people, he should be protesting against Saddam Hussein, not a military effort to remove him.
Dughall, Scotland

People like Mr Barr need to understand the whole picture and not just the 10,000 Iraqis who might suffer. If things are left, then a considerable number more will suffer.
Alex King, UK (Jersey)

Matt Barr is a true hero. May God watch over him!
Rebecca K., Sweden

If Mr. Barr is for peace and justice in the world, he should join the Royal Marines.
Peter C. Kohler, US

Whilst personally I have yet to be conviced that invading Iraq the best course of action, I find Mr Barr's intentions at best naive and and worse idiotic. Does he not realise that he's aiding a dictator who has in the past gassed his own population? What of their human rights?
D Barnes, UK

I think Matt Barr is very brave. Its good to see that some people are willing to stand up for what they believe in. As for military action against Iraq, I believe it should only happen under UN resolution AND if the US can prove that Iraq has intent to strike at the West, not just if he has the capability.
Jon Schofield, UK

If they feel so strongly then it is their perogative to go to Iraq. But they should do so in the certain knowledge that they will have absolutely no effect in stopping any attack.
Paul, England

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See also:

09 Sep 02 | Politics
09 Sep 02 | Americas
08 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Middle East
08 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Politics
07 Sep 02 | Politics
09 Sep 02 | Business
09 Sep 02 | Middle East
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