We sing, we march, and we wait for the bombs

Many of those who travelled to Baghdad have returned, but Karl Dallas remains. Here he describes the past week's events
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The Independent Online

Karl Dallas, a 72-year-old Communist Christian singer-songwriter from Bradford, West Yorkshire, is one of 150 "human shields" remaining in Iraq. He living in a temporary cabin at the Daura oil refinery in Baghdad.

Karl Dallas, a 72-year-old Communist Christian singer-songwriter from Bradford, West Yorkshire, is one of 150 "human shields" remaining in Iraq. He living in a temporary cabin at the Daura oil refinery in Baghdad.

Monday I ate a (comparatively) hearty breakfast after fasting and praying all day yesterday. War seems to be getting closer, and frankly that scares me.

When I started the fast, I wasn't sure how long God would expect me to keep it up but when I saw the sun shining in the window of my cabin, and had a nice hot shower, it seemed to be over.

I don't fancy the eggs and luncheon meat they give us most mornings, but I have a rapidly diminishing carton of British muesli, plus yoghurt I can buy locally, and after munching on a freshly peeled orange, that puts me right for the rest of the day. Then it's back to the Palestine Hotel in the city centre to check emails and see if the international phone line is working in the Shields' office. It used to work in our previous office, but since then we've been promised day after day that it'll be fixed, but so far no.

Tuesday My wife Gloria was on TV with Tony Blair last night, one of 10 women allowed to submit one question each, and apparently they gave him a hard time. I bask in some nice reflected glory.

There's a concert on the river-bank tonight by members of the Iraqi Union of Artists. While we're waiting for things to get going it's out with my precious Martin guitar and my peace standards – "Ain't Gonna Study War No More", etc – and ending with everyone in a ring, dancing and singing the inevitable "We Shall Overcome". This isn't just a song to me. I really believe it.

Back at the oil refinery for an expected 1.30am (our time) call for the James Whale radio show. It starts quite friendly, then on to the "don't you realise Saddam Hussein is a bloodthirsty tyrant?" sort of questions, and just when I'm going to try to deal with them I lose the connection.

Just as I'm getting my head down, a crowd of Shields have gathered outside my cabin, painting up banners for a kids' rally they're organising for the next afternoon, which means I don't get much sleep. The banners look good, though someone has painted the CND symbol upside down.

Wednesday My American friend Faith has arranged for us to meet local kids whose parents live and work in the oil refinery. We start in the nursery, where they are all wide-eyed at this strange Westerner singing to them in a language they don't understand.

I form them into a ring while we sing "Skip to My Loo" and they seem to enjoy it. This is the youngest crowd of kids I have ever sung to, and one of the toughest, apart from my own three. Then the kindergarten, followed by the primary school. I give them their favourite, Woody Guthrie's "Car Car", with its engine and honk-honk noises. Not only do they join in the "brr-brr" chorus, they also sing "riding in my car|" in impeccable American accents. Then a bunch of girls renders me one verse of "Old Macdonald had a Farm".

I realise these youngsters will probably all die if the refinery is hit. Incidentally, Faith faces imprisonment when she gets home under the Patriot Act.

In the afternoon, it's the kids' rally, and of course I'm expected to perform again, though by now I'm running on empty. I get out my mouth-organ harness and improvise a "Peacetime Blues", which brings the TV crews all running over.

Thursday At 9am, the electrician comes to fix the power point for my laptop. Naturally, there's a part he has to go away for. Some things are international.

I also try to connect the short-wave radio they have supplied to each of us but I can't get any English-language stations.

I have to make my calls from a public telephone office, which costs 6,000 dinars (about £2) for a three-minute call. I have been spending money trying to talk to my wife almost every day, but get her answering service. She's a very busy, self-employed woman.

Friday I spend the morning writing emails to family and friends, and realise when I have finished that they are all actually farewell messages. I get quite tearful, thinking of this, but they are tears of joy that I have known such wonderful people and had such a wonderful life.

My friend Gazwan Al-Mukhtar, who's active in the anti-sanctions campaign, drops by, and we kick around ideas. We're going to try to organise a riverboat shuffle down the Tigris, a Peace Boat, probably on Sunday night with on-board PA loud enough to be heard on the river-bank.

I also raise my idea of a "good morning Kuwait" radio show aimed at GIs, with Robin and me acting as Robin Williams-style DJs. We need to find someone with imagination enough to give us access to a transmitter.

Going to rest up now, preparing for the big Baghdad demo tomorrow, which will echo marches all over the world. Gloria says she'll be on the streets of Leeds. Frankly, I think we need more than the two million we had in London. How many more do we need before Bush and Blair see sense, if ever?

Saturday Up early writing the order of service for my funeral in case the worst comes to the worst. For music, I want my "Family of Man" played by a jazz band, Wesley's "O Can It Be", my friend Steve Ashley's "Over There in Paradise", and, of course, "The Internationale". I hate the usual chorus, with its "last fight let us face" so I've rewritten it to say "the struggle never ends".

Then to a big peace demo, lots of women chanting slogans and doing that high-pitched ululating you hear all across the Arab world.

Later today I plan to video goodbye messages from a number of the Shields. And then tomorrow, another day of fasting and praying for peace. I know it works.

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