Published on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 by the Gannett News Service
Activists in Baghdad Brace for Consequences of War
by Greg Barrett
BAGHDAD - If the invasion that the Pentagon has dubbed "Operation Shock
and Awe" commences, Charlie Liteky is unlikely to feel either.
Ex-U.S. Army Captain
Congressional Medal of Honor
He expects the United States to bomb Iraq. He expects noise and
destruction more powerful and frightening than he has ever known. He
expects the Earth to shake and houses to go dark and children to scream
But Liteky sounds more determined than frightened.
Like 20 other members of the Chicago-based Iraq Peace Team
<http://www.iraqpeaceteam.org> who remain in Baghdad even as hostilities
appear certain, Liteky abhors cluster bombs, cruise missiles and the
civil unrest that combat causes. As a decorated Vietnam veteran, he
knows firsthand the chaos and carnage of war.
That's precisely why he sounded elated Tuesday morning when he told his
wife that the Iraqi government had extended his tourist visa 10 days and
is likely to extend it again, long enough for him to help Iraqi children
through the difficult time.
Most of the peace activists who descended by the hundreds on Baghdad
this fall and winter have fled. Those who remain have no intentions of
leaving. They are anchored to the bull's-eye despite the fact - or maybe
because of it - that the World Health Organization predicts 100,000
Iraqis could die.
"I'm here because I hear the children cry," Liteky said. "In my mind ...
I imagine the bombing and the noise and the windows shattering and
something coming down from the ceiling and children looking up and
parents grabbing them and fear being transferred from parents to
Washington has warned the activists to clear out. The Pentagon has said
its assault will leave no place in Baghdad to hide. So the rundown
hotels that enjoyed full houses as recently as February are shuttering
At the Hotel Al-Fanar on the Tigris river, the Iraq Peace Team is moving
to the lower floors because the eight-story building is old and seems
unsteady. Its bomb shelter is a musty basement that stores the hotel's
chemical cleaning supplies.
Members of the peace team have signed an ominous-sounding contract: "In
the event of your death, you agree to your body not being returned to
your own country but being disposed of in the most convenient way."
They have had awkward discussions about what to do with the corpses that
might collect around them. Wrap the dead in hotel drapes, they decided.
Pray for help.
Iraq Peace Team founder Kathy Kelly had a photo enlarged that shows her
with some of her dearest friends - the family of an Iraqi widow and her
nine children. The photo is being mailed to Kelly's mother in Chicago.
"She can see by that photo that I am very, very happy," Kelly said,
sounding serenely calm despite the gathering storm.
On Monday, Kelly helped an Iraqi friend pack to leave. Teacher and
artist Amal Alwan rushed her three young children into a taxi and paid
$300 for the 10-hour drive from Baghdad to Damascus, Syria. Alwan
doesn't have relatives in Syria and couldn't tell the cabbie exactly
where to go.
"She doesn't have a clue where she will stay, but she can't possibly
stay in Baghdad, not with children," Kelly said. "Her house is next to a
As Kelly spoke it was almost 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Baghdad and she was
awake reading "A Fine Balance," a novel about civil war in India. She
planned to rise six hours later for a daily prayer meeting then go with
the peace team to the United Nations offices in Baghdad. They would hold
aloft several enlarged photos of Iraqi families.
Each photo would carry a single question: "Doomed?"
"I don't have the slightest sense of not belonging exactly where I am
right now," said Kelly, 50, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. "The
thought of leaving has not even crossed my mind."
The Pentagon says the presence of U.S. pacifists will not deter the
course of war. Although there are no plans to arrest them for violating
sanctions on Iraq by traveling to Baghdad, officials throughout the U.S.
government, from the White House to the State Department to the
Pentagon, sound confused about how best to deal with them.
"There's not a whole lot of precedence," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Dan
Hetlage. "It's not like you had human shields protecting the Taliban."
Armed for war
Members of the Iraq Peace Team say they are as prepared for war as they
will ever be. They have "crash kits" packed neatly and set by their
hotel doors. Liteky's is the size of carryon luggage. It bulges with
bandages, antibiotics, water-purification tablets, three liters of
water, dried fruit, canned tuna, biscuits, power bars and a short-wave
He hopes to ride out Operation Shock and Awe in Baghdad's Orphanage of
the Sisters of Mother Teresa. Or at least to rush there as soon as the
bombing subsides. He's compelled to at least try to quell the inevitable
trembling of the children.
"I'd rather die doing something," he told his wife, Judy, "then die ...
in some old folks home."
Liteky, 72, is a former Roman Catholic priest and Vietnam war hero
awarded the congressional Medal of Honor for crawling under volleys of
gunfire in 1967 to rescue 23 injured U.S. soldiers.
According to Army reports, during the firefight near Phuoc-Lac the
wounded became too heavy to carry so Liteky turned onto his back in the
mud, pulled the men on top of him and crawled backward under gunfire,
using only his heels and elbows.
He's plenty scared of war, he said, but his fear is for the children.
When the attack comes, he said, "the most beautiful thing that can
happen for me is if I am permitted to be at the orphanage. At least I
could pick the children up, hold them, and try to let my calm and love
transfer to them."
Liteky speaks every morning to his wife 11 times zones away in San
Francisco. Since arriving in Baghdad three weeks ago, it has become
increasingly difficult to hang up the phone. On Tuesday they spoke for
40 minutes, said goodbye twice, and kept talking.
"I don't have a death wish," he said in an interview Monday. "I have
everything to live for. I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful life
Liteky and his wife have thought for a week that the invasion of Iraq
would begin sometime between March 10 and 17. So when Judy Liteky, a
math teacher at a community college, left for work on Monday, she put a
bumper sticker on her car.
"Attack Iraq? No!," it read.
"The bumper sticker made me feel just a little bit better," she said
Kelly heard late Monday that the United Nations would evacuate most of
its remaining office staff on Tuesday. Still, she sounded steadfast in
her decision to stay in Baghdad, even if it meant dying.
"A lot of people are concerned for the foreigners who remain here; you
wonder if anyone is concerned for these very ordinary Iraqi people who
are going to die here," she said.
When photographer Thorne Anderson chose to travel to Baghdad with Kelly
in January to document the people and the war, he informed his family of
the trip in an email.
Anderson, who has freelanced for Gannett News Service, Newsweek, The New
York Times and other publications, said he expected a little preaching,
lots of concern, and some pleas to reconsider.
Instead, his father, the Rev. Eade Anderson of Montreat, N.C., was
succinct in his reply.
"I've always said life shouldn't be wasted on the small things," he
wrote in an email. "Love, Dad."
C 2003 Gannett News Service
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