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
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.
sort of reaction did you and the other human shields get from the
Iraqis to your presence there?
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?
man in Basra told me to go home and fight against the war
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
said that you feel the human shields were victims of a campaign
Can you explain a little more about that?
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.
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.
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."
of the buses used by the human shields in Iraq
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
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?
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.