BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - American and European peace activists wrapped their arms around posts on a bridge over the Tigris River on Thursday, symbolizing their intent to act as human shields in any U.S. war on Iraq. The 14 activists, mostly from Italy, were one of the first groups here using the ``shield'' title, which suggests they might place their bodies at potential targets to deter bombing. But they acknowledged their mission was only a gesture meant to try to deter an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. ``I have no intention of being a martyr,'' Canadian Roberta Taman said. ``I'm here because I believe that the world wants peace and that we can achieve peace.'' The campaigners, organized as the Iraq Peace Team, have been draping banners over public facilities in Baghdad this week - an electricity station, a water treatment plant and, on Thursday, the Martyrs Bridge over the Tigris. ``Bombing This Site Is A War Crime,'' the banners read. Dozens of other ``human shields'' - Europeans and Americans - obtained visas at the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday and were also headed for Iraq, riding in double-decker buses. ``A country that can hardly provide water for its citizens cannot be a threat to the world,'' Ignacio Cano of Spain said. Some of the activists charge that the Geneva Conventions governing the practices of war make it a crime to attack facilities essential to civilian life, as the U.S. military did in the 1991 Gulf War when its bombs knocked out Iraq's electricity system.
Standing on the bridge, Iraq Peace Team leader Kathy Kelly of Chicago said, ``You can imagine what this city would be like if it were cut off when some people need desperately to get to a hospital or to connect with the people on the other side.'' In New York on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the 15 Security Council members were meeting to discuss the potential humanitarian consequences of a war in Iraq. The U.N. refugee agency said it is concerned about possible shortages of food, drinking water, winterized shelters, sanitation, and other basic services. It says 600,000 Iraqis might flee to neighboring countries if war breaks out. As peace groups here and around the world readied for marches and rallies Saturday in protest of U.S. war plans, the U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq quietly went about another day's business Thursday. Among other missions, a U.N. chemical team began the neutralization of mustard gas from 10 artillery shells at the former al-Muthanna chemical weapons installation in the desert northwest of Baghdad. The 155mm shells, whose complete neutralization is expected to take another two or three days, were the first banned weapons destroyed by the U.N. teams in the new round of inspections that began last Nov. 27. The shells were actually inventoried by previous U.N. inspectors in the 1990s, but were not destroyed before that inspections regime collapsed in 1998.
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