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August 2005
Karl Dallas: "We must love one another"
karl dallas
Karl making music in Iraq
Bradford might not be the first place you'd think of as the location for one of the first outings of a brand new 'musical tragicomedy' about the war in Iraq - but that's exactly what's happening as playwright Karl Dallas' new work hits the stage in the city...
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Karl's been many things in his time: journalist, musician and playwright to name but three - but has also made his name as a peace campaigner and harsh critic of British involvement in Iraq, becoming one of the controversial 'human shields' in that country in 2003. The 'shields' - or humanitarian observers - travelled in an entourage of vehicles, including double decker buses and London cabs, with the intention of saving lives among Iraqi civilians if - and, as it turned out, when - the bombing began.

Now back in his home city of Bradford, his new play Into The War Zone, performed by The Writers Company, looks back at the experiences he and the other human shields went through in Iraq as Saddam's regime was toppled. Karl describes it as a 'musical tragicomedy' and it gets its first airing in West Yorkshire this month - at Bradford's Love Apple Cafe on Tuesday 16th August, and then at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge on Wednesday 17th August.

We caught up with Karl in Bradford as he made final preparations for the premiere to find out more about his latest production - and about his life as a human shield in Iraq...

What made you decide to up-sticks and go to Iraq at a time of incredible danger?

bombing in iraq
Iraq, 2003

I've been a peace activist since I was seven-years-old when my mother - a single parent - took me along on a demo against Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. Today I'm protesting against Blair's appeasement of Bush. Incidentally, I was protesting against Britain's appeasement of Saddam when he was the West's best friend in the Middle East. I went to Palestine in 2002 and 2004, protesting against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I am now trying to organise shields to go to Iran and/or Syria, if US sabre-rattling gets serious.

What sort of reaction did you and the other human shields get from the Iraqis to your presence there?

Almost universal support, including from people whose opposition to Saddam is well-known. A man in Basra told me to go home and fight against the war there - an incident which is in the play.

What sort of people volunteered to act as human shields/humanitarian observers in Iraq?

quotesA man in Basra told me to go home and fight against the war there quotes
Karl Dallas

To quote the play: "We've got all sorts – Christians, Jews, atheists, communists, conservatives. All different. All with one aim, to stop this b****y war." One woman, who assured me her politics were "rather to the right of Genghis Kahn" assured me that "our dear Queen is opposed to the war". She claimed to have friends at Court, and also in the military general staff, who she said thought it was a ridiculous military adventure.

You've said that you feel the human shields were victims of a campaign of disinformation…Can you explain a little more about that?

Again from the play: "That b****y reporter. He's only said that we have to go where we're told, that we're supervised wherever we go, that we can't get to talk politics with ordinary Iraqis and that we refuse to believe the people are looking forward to war, which he says they are." On the same day the Daily Telegraph said we'd all gone home, and it was said we'd all been sent to military camps - both untrue. A further 200 arrived from South Africa, with the blessing of Nelson Mandela.

I left on March 19th, determined to set the record straight. The bombing started the next day when I was in Amman, en route home. I wanted to return to Baghdad but I was persuaded that I had a job to do, and I should complete it.

You place the blame for the continuation of Saddam's rule in Iraq with the USA, Britain and the Soviet Union. How do you come to this conclusion?

"...The American CIA put Saddam in place. Gave him the names of people to assassinate."

double decker bus
One of the buses used by the human shields in Iraq

"...The most dangerous times were when we were America's friend. Your CIA trained our Mukhabarat well. Today, they are not so efficient, because their computers don't work anymore. No doubt we will return to those deadly times after your tanks roll into Baghdad."



"...The Americans will be victorious, of course. They have control of the skies, and all our soldiers have are obsolete Soviet weapons."


These are facts. Saddam was originally a US stooge. The Soviets were competing for his affections. But he got out of control, like Hitler, Noriega, Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam. They never learn!

You seem very much concerned with the 'ordinary' man, woman or child in Iraq. How far do you feel that if we'd heard more from them - and less from the politicians - that things might have been different?

The common people of the world need to make themselves heard, not only with marches and slogans, but by Gandhian non-violent direct action. In Palestine we drove Israeli soldiers out of a house they had requisitioned, keeping 20 people prisoner in a room without sanitation, food or water. They fired teargas and stun grenades at us - damaging my hearing - but they had to leave because it was supposed to be a secret that they were there, and we plastered the building with warning posters in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. In Ramallah in 2004 we placed ourselves in front of soldiers firing live ammo at stone-throwing kids. None of the kids were hit, but two of our number were wounded.

iraq flag as it was under saddam hussein
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