Despite the danger, Aussie aid worker going back to Iraq


Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 5

Australian peace activist Donna Mulhearn, who was abducted in the Iraqi hotspot of Fallujah earlier this year, is returning to Baghdad on a "mercy mission" after the last Australian aid group pulled out.

Mulhearn, who acted as a "human shield" during the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces last year, was kidnapped during her second trip to Iraq after being caught with three other aid workers in crossfire between insurgents and US forces in April.

She was freed unharmed by local mujahedin fighters after convincing them she had been distributing humanitarian aid to civilians.

After her last escapade the 34-year-old former political adviser turned aid worker was castigated by Prime Minister John Howard as "careless and foolhardy" for exposing herself to danger and putting herself in a position to be kidnapped.

One of her mentors on her previous trip was Margaret Hassan, the head of CARE International's Iraq operations, who is believed to have been murdered last week after being kidnapped by unknown attackers on Oct. 19.

But before leaving here on Saturday, Mulhearn, from New South Wales, said she was making her third trip to one of the most dangerous countries on earth to help the thousands of Iraqis displaced by fighting.

"I don't focus on fears or else that would probably paralyze me and I wouldn't be able to do it," she told commercial television.

"I'll be wearing pretty much a disguise where people won't be able to recognize at first glance that I'm actually a foreigner.

"We work with poor families, with families living in refugee camps."

Mulhearn's latest trip follows the decision by World Vision Australia on Friday to suspend operations in Iraq because of the increasing danger.

The reverend Tim Costello, head of World Vision Australia, said Mulhearn had to be aware of what she was embarking on.

"She must go with her eyes fully open and she may not come back," he told the Nine Network.

After her release in April, Howard described Mulhearn as "foolhardy," saying the unnecessary risks she took put not only her only life at risk, but the lives of many other people.

Mulhearn immediately blamed Australian government policy for her predicament.

In a radio interview broadcast at the time she said: "I realized quickly that my prime minister, John Howard, had placed me in great danger by making inflammatory comments about the war just a few days ago.

"I was questioned about Australia's involvement in the war, about the current role of Australian soldiers and the views of Australians at home. They asked why Australia wants to hurt Iraqi people."

She said she felt "a great deal of shame about how blindly my government follows the lead of the US in terms of foreign policy."

"I really felt I had to answer for my government's actions and I felt really that put me in quite a bit of danger."