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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:24 GMT
'Our epic trip is just the beginning'
The anti-war protesters
The group travelled across Europe to Iraq
Anti-war protesters have arrived in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad after travelling 3,000 miles on double decker buses from London.

BBC News Online speaks to one of the drivers, Joe Letts from Shaftesbury in Dorset, about the trip and what is next for the group

It is no exaggeration when Joe Letts describes his trip from London to Iraq on a London bus as "epic".

Blizzards, tough mountain terrain, crashes and endless bureaucracy - he says it is "a miracle" the peace convoy arrived at all.

But he knows it is just the start of the journey.

The aim of the convoy is to highlight the plight of the Iraqi people and act as a deterrent against bombing the country.

It is a formidable task, but some people doubted the convoy would even make it to Iraq and they have been proved wrong.

"The journey was monumental," Mr Letts told BBC News Online from his Baghdad hotel.

Joe Letts
War is all too real for the Iraqis and they can't cope - the levels of stress and mental illness here are incredible

Joe Letts
"It was not feasible and we really shouldn't have made it, but we did."

Difficulties the convoy faced included both physical hazards and emotional upset, with personality clashes between some of those on the buses.

But of everything he endured, Mr Letts said his lowest point came when one of the buses crashed into the back of the other just after crossing the Iraqi border.

It was the huge amount of encouragement the group received along the journey, and the support and prayers of people back home, that pushed them on.

"In every country along the way people were out chanting and singing. The will of these people not to be in this war is amazing," he said.

And the reaction to the peace convoy in Iraq has been equally as overwhelming, with food and accommodation provided for them for free.

Friendship

"We have been humbled by the way the Iraqi people have welcomed us, they are amazing," he said.

"They can distinguish between acts of government and ordinary people who are offering the hand of friendship."

What the group have found since their arrival has made them even more resolute about their task.

"People here are terrified, they feel they have no future," said Mr Letts.

"War is all too real for the Iraqis and they can't cope. The levels of stress and mental illness here are incredible.

"We don't hear about this sort of thing, our government will never tell us. It is our job to do educate people about what the reality is for people here."

We know that millions of people would be here if they could and we are the privileged few

Joe Letts
The convoy is now piecing together its plans for the next few weeks.

These include visiting places they plan to shield, like schools and hospitals, but also important infrastructure sites such as water purification plants.

"If a school is bombed it affects maybe a few hundred people but if a water purification plant is hit then millions suffer," said Mr Letts.

"People are already dying because of a lack of clean water and the medicines to treat the diseases that spread as a result."

Mr Letts says he still believes the actions of the convoy, along with peace protesters around the world, can still prevent a war against Iraq.

"The people on this convoy don't regard themselves as special," he said.

Missing home

"We know that millions of people would be here if they could and we are the privileged few.

"The average person does not want this war and I still believe we will end up stopping it."

But the exhausting journey and the task ahead of them has taken it toll.

"I miss my wife and children and there are times when I have thought about going home," he said.

"But I have spoken to my wife and we have agreed it will achieve nothing if I do.

"When I return home after this experience I will be exhausted and need time to get over it, but I need to feel I gave it my best shot."


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