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'Human shields' bus it to Baghdad

A peace campaigner puts finishing touches to one of the buses.
A peace campaigner puts finishing touches to one of the buses.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Fifty anti-war campaigners have set out from London to Iraq in three double-decker buses and a taxi saying they want to be "human shields."

Members of the Truth Justice Peace Human Shield Action group say the 3,000-mile journey to Baghdad will take two weeks and they hope others will join them along the route.

The campaigners have pledged to stay in Iraq if the country is attacked, forcing the U.S. and Britain to risk bombing their own citizens.

Former UK Labour MP Tony Benn is also making arrangements to travel to Baghdad, where he is hoping to meet Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The veteran left-winger met Saddam in 1990 in an unsuccessful bid to avert the original Gulf War.

Benn, who hopes to go to Iraq next week, told the UK's Press Association: "The purpose is to explore the prospects for peace. That is why I went in 1990 and it is important now when you hear America speaking about weeks not months.

"We hear President Bush and Tony Blair every day but we don't hear from Saddam Hussein. It is a good sign that he may be willing to meet me."

Among those travelling on the peace buses are 60-year-old Sue Darling, a former British diplomat and Gordon Sloan, a contestant on the Australian TV show "Big Brother" who became known to millions of viewers as "Donkey Boy."

The group is being led by Ken Nichols O'Keefe, a former U.S. Marine and Gulf War veteran, who renounced his citizenship in 1999 as a protest against U.S. foreign policy.

Speaking at Tower Bridge in central London before the group left in three double-decker Routemaster vehicles, he said: "If we don't get 10,000 people, I think this is a world that will be hard to live in for all of us.

"This conflict will lead to World War Three. We need to stop this war first and foremost, if we don't, shame on us all and pity on us all."

Joe Letts, of Shaftesbury, Dorset, a bus operator who organised the transport and is also taking part in the project, said they expected thousands to join them as they travelled through Europe and he hoped the public would show their support.

He added: "What Bush and Blair are preparing to do in Iraq is totally unjustified. The Iraqi people have suffered enough already."

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