Peaceniks Flock to Baghdad

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – What do a priest, a German beauty queen, a spiritual healer and a diehard communist all have in common?

They have made their way to Baghdad to try to stop a U.S.-led war on Iraq, employing various skills and talents, ranging from diplomacy and spiritual healing to soccer.

Baghdadis, who have not seen such a diverse influx of foreigners for many a year, are both amused and bemused.

“I am a reiki master, look it up on the Internet,” said Peter van Dyke, who drove a London cab to Baghdad with another 100 “human shields” following in double-decker buses.

“It is through achieving higher knowledge or spiritual consciousness, or rei, that we are able to properly guide our life energy, ki, to create positive results and affect positive and personal and global change,” declares the one website devoted to the reiki healing technique.

Mainstream spirituality has also made its presence felt. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, special envoy of Pope John Paul II, met President Saddam Hussein last week to try to avert war.

Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of Russia`s Communist Party, saw Saddam on Wednesday.

Rudolfo Tucci, an Italian farmer from Anzio, is also in Baghdad, with his Saint Bernard. Tucci teamed up with a Canadian housewife to found the Bridges to Baghdad group.

German pacifists have recruited brains and beauty to the cause. German beauty queen Alexandra Vodjanikova flew into Baghdad on Thursday and immediately declared she wanted to meet Saddam to try to avert war.

“I come to Iraq to see the other side of Iraq,” the 19-year-old blonde told reporters at Saddam International Airport. “I’ll go to hospitals to meet the children… I want to meet Saddam Hussein about peace.”

Spanish pacifists chose football to spread their message, playing the Mustansiryah University team and drawing 5-5.

“It does not matter what team one is on. We are all here to say no to war,” said Franc Emilia.

Benjamin Joffe-Walt, left, reads a statement as he and other American citizens lead an anti-war protest in front of the Al Aammiriyah shelter memorial statue in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday Feb. 19 2003. Sitting is John Ross, an American who lives in Mexico. Several anti-war groups from across the world have converged on the Iraqi capital . (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)