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A Hollywood Rebel Flies into Baghdad

American movie star Sean Penn stands next to a poster of Mahatma Gandhi during his vist to a water treatment center in Baghdad, Saturday, Dec. 14 2002. Penn is on a three-day visit to Iraq. (AP Photo/Jassim Mohammed)
The Hollywood actor and director Sean Penn flew into Baghdad yesterday on a three-day visit to warn that a war with Iraq would be "frightening".

Penn, the former husband of Madonna and an Oscar nominee, spent yesterday afternoon touring the poorly equipped children's wards at al-Mansour hospital on the banks of the Tigris in the capital.

The trip, he said, was an attempt to understand the growing threat of war in Iraq. "As a father, an actor, a film-maker and a patriot my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation to find my own voice on matters of conscience."

"I have a privileged opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of this frightening conflict."

Penn's visit completes his transformation from Hollywood bad boy to anti-war activist.

In October, he paid $56,000 (£35,000) to place an advertisement in the Washington Post against a war with Iraq.

It contained an open letter to George Bush in which he accused the US president of trying to suffocate the debate over the Iraq crisis.

He decried a cycle of foreign policy where "bombing is answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing".

"Sacrificing American soldiers or innocent civilians in an unprecedented pre-emptive attack on a separate sovereign nation may well prove itself a most temporary medicine," he wrote.

Penn, who traveled to Iraq with the Washington-based Institute of Public Accuracy, is staying at al-Rashid hotel, where in the lobby a mosaic of a grimacing, toothless George Bush senior is displayed above the words: "Bush is criminal."

Penn's trip may result in a fine from the US government, which bans its citizens, apart from journalists, from visiting Iraq.

He also adds his name to an eclectic list of visitors to Iraq, including the rebel Labour MP George Galloway, the Austrian far-right politican Jörg Haider, and, most recently, the former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda.



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