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Many International Human Shields Leave Iraq

Many of the international volunteers who traveled to Baghdad to put themselves in the path of western bombs are leaving Iraq disillusioned. Some are frightened and others are angry that Iraq deployed them as human shields to military sites instead of the schools and hospitals they had wanted to protect. The human shields are coming home, including many of the international brigade of volunteers who drove across Europe with much fanfare, arriving in Baghdad in February in two red London buses.

Their mission was to gather thousands of foreign supporters to sit in Baghdad, and by sheer force of numbers to convince the United States and Britain not to bomb the city. But support on that scale never materialized.

There were only about 200 human shields in Iraq, and that number has dwindled to fewer than 100. They report they are frustrated that Iraqi officials deployed them to military sites rather than hospitals, schools and kindergartens, as they had wanted.

Some are now in a hotel in downtown Amman. A sign on the front door says "human shields meeting point", and the hotel is charging half the usual rate for the returning volunteers.

Still, the former shields say they do not consider their departure from Iraq a failure.

Sue Darling, a former British diplomat in her 60s who has just returned from ten days in Baghdad answered "No, no absolutely not," when asked if she thinks there's any sense of failure among those who've left, including herself, personally.

She wouldn't say why she left, but she says despite the group's dispersal, she thinks it is achieving its goals.

"The intention was not to be human shields, the intention was to stop the war, and we are part of an international global movement that has so far stopped the war," she said. Sue Darling added that she left for personal reasons.

Another of the volunteers who has come to Amman plans to return to Baghdad. He is Dagur Ingvarson, a fisherman and father of four. Originally from Iceland, he now lives in Denmark, and he has taken three months leave from his family and business responsibilities to become a human shield.

Answering the question "Why?" Mr. Ingvarson said, "If you asked me this question six months ago, I'd have said 'bomb it all, I don't care. When I heard about the human shields I thought 'how stupid can people be?' It's something my conscience tells me to do, I am not sure why."

Mr. Ingvarson says he is disappointed that more volunteers didn't join, and he is aware that by returning to Iraq at this time he could be signing his own death warrant.

He had been assigned to stay at the Baghdad power station, which is expected to be one of the first targets of any bombing raids.

"I was assigned there, I did stay there," Mr. Ingvarson said. When asked if he were told that the bombing starts tomorrow would he continue to stay there, "I would like to say yes now, but I don't know. When you stand back in position, I don't know," he answered.

Mr. Ingvarson says he went to Iraq to be a peace volunteer, not a puppet of the Iraqi government. Still, he says he will return to Baghdad if he can.

The sometimes stormy relationship between the volunteers and the Iraqi government has reportedly resulted in a decision by Iraq not to issue any more visas for foreigners who want to be human shields. Western news reports from Baghdad say the Iraqi government is planning to use thousands of its own people for that purpose instead.