Actor-director Sean Penn, starting a three-day visit to Baghdad, said yesterday he wanted more insight into ”this frightening conflict.”

The former Hollywood bad boy and Oscar nominee, who paid for a $56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post in October accusing President Bush of stifling debate over Iraq, visited a Baghdad hospital later in the day.

”As a father, an actor, a film-maker and patriot, my visit to Iraq is for me a natural extension of my obligation … to find my own voice on matters of conscience,” Penn said. Penn’s advertisement in the Post took the form of an open letter to Bush in which he urged the president to stop a cycle where ”bombing is answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing.”

Penn said he was seeking ”a deeper understanding of the conflict.”

The Hollywood star stayed an hour and a half in al-Mansur Hospital, visiting many child leukemia victims and premature babies. He talked to the doctors and took pictures but made no comment to the press, explaining that he wished to avoid public exposure and focus on understanding the conflict.

His visit was announced by the Institute of Public Accuracy.

”By the invitation of the Institute for Public Accuracy, I have the privileged opportunity to pursue a deeper understanding of this frightening conflict,” Penn said in the press release.

”I would hope that all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channels,” he said.

The Institute for Public Accuracy already sponsored a Baghdad visit by House of Representatives member Nick Rahall in September in a bid to ”give peace a chance.”

The San Francisco-based organization describes itself as a group seeking to ”broaden public discourse by gaining media access for those whose perspectives are commonly drowned out by corporate-backed think tanks and other influential institutions.”

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