February 14, 2003
A group of Western peace activists said on Thursday they had written to former South African President Nelson Mandela asking him to come to Iraq to help them prevent war. Mandela, a Nobel peace laureate, has accused US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of running roughshod over the United Nations in their bid to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"He has not responded yet, but we believe that Mr Mandela would come," said Roberta Taman, spokeswomen for 15 activists from Canada, Italy and other European countries who recently arrived in Iraq.
Members of the group - one of several around the world involved in a variety of solidarity visits to Iraq - said they would sit outside Iraqi power plants and hospitals. It was unclear if they would remain there under bombing.
"We have a responsibility to say no to this war. There is no justification," Taman told a news conference.
Millions of people in cities across the globe are expected to demonstrate on Saturday against any US-led invasion of Iraq and organisers say it could be the world's biggest anti-war protest.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected in London and Rome, with smaller events planned from Antarctica to Reykjavik. In South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki shares Mandela's anti-war position, a series of protests is also planned.
A group of about 50 peace activists said in Turkey this week they had got visas to enter Iraq where they plan to disperse to populated areas of Baghdad and other parts of the country, acting as "human shields."
They hope their presence and the possibility of Western casualties will encourage US political leaders and military planners to rethink any plans to bomb Iraq over its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The Iraq Peace Team, another Western group, has been in the country since September 2002 and pledges to stay with Iraqi families if war erupts.
Neither Washington nor London, preparing for a possible war over Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, have said if the presence of Western human shields would affect their plans.