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[casi] For the Children .....

Friends, I was asked to speak at this dedication to the children of Iraq on
Holy Innocents Day and felt powerless to express my feelings as we threaten
to use weapons of mass destruction on the place of all our common heritage.
This is equally for the children of Palestine and Israel. My inadequate best
- and prayers for sanity and peace in this New Year, warmest, felicity a.

Felicity Arbuthnot,

St Martin¹s in the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London - Holy Innocents
Day Service, 28th December 2002. Dedicated to the Children of Iraq.

Last year in Athens, I spoke at a Conference to mark the start of the
International Decade for the Culture of Peace and non-violence for the
Children of the World (2001 2010) a decade clearly quickly forgotten.

I talked particularly of Basra, Iraq¹s beautiful, battered second city, from
where Sinbad departed for his magical journeys and the Biblical Tigris and
Euphrates rivers meet at the Shat Al Arab. Basra, in the eye of Desert Storm
in 1991 has an unimaginable childhood cancer and leukaemia rate and birth
deformities equally unimaginable, which have been linked to the depleted
uranium weapons (DU) used by the US and UK, during the Gulf war.

The chemically toxic and radioactive DU dust which has entered the water
table and fauna and flora in Iraq, former Yugoslavia and now Afganistan will
still be polluting our earth when the sun goes out: it has a half life of
four and a half billion years.

In response to what I had said an extraordinary political lyricist, David
Rovics* wrote a song, which says in three verses, more than I could say in a
million words, it is called ŒSong for Basra¹:

If I could sing a song for every bomb that flies
I'd sing each and all the days
If there were to be a verse for every dying child's cries
For every helpless father's gaze
If I wrote a love letter to each corpse as it is carried
I'd never still my pen
If I had to stop a moment for each one that's been buried
I'd never move again
And the stocks are going up somewhere in America
Sing a song for Basra

If I could shed a tear for every home that bombs destroy
I'd never stop crying
If every broken brick were a heart of a little girl or boy
All the world's children would be sighing
If I could hold each shattered body, each baby stilled at birth
I'd have no time for loneliness
I'd spend all my time embracing the people of this savaged earth
Feeling the poisoned wind's caress
And the billionaires are laughing in some safe place in America
Sing a song for Basra

If each barren pharmacy were a woman's shining eyes
I'd fall in love forever
If every bombed-out kindergarten were a factory in disguise
Wouldn't that be clever
But bricks are only bricks, and dust is only dust
And death is all around
Each day another missile falls and sometimes the only thing to trust
Is the shaking of the ground
And they're loading up the warplanes in some safe place in America
Sing a song for Basra

About an hour¹s drive from Basra  Is Ur, believed birth place of Abraham,
father or Prophet of Judaism, Christianity and Islam whom legend has, was
suckled on two fingers, one which gave forth milk and the other honey - thus
Œland of milk and honey¹.  Nearby is Qurna, believed site of the Garden of
Eden and not far away, Babylon, where the site of the Hanging Gardens can
still be visited. In the talk which has over taken, of weapons of mass
destruction and Saddam, we forget that Iraq - Mesapotamia is all our common

The great ziggurat at Ur is pockmarked by shrapnel from the British and
American missiles which bomb the region on an almost daily basis (illegal
bombings for which there is no UN mandate) - two professed Christian
leaders, bombing Abraham¹s birth place......

But I learned about reconcilliation at Ur. Two years ago I had agreed to
travel with a group from Sheffield Against Sanctions on Iraq and to devise
an itinery for them. On the way to Ur, I failed to find the correct turning
and we drove up and down the main road a number of times, past moonscape
scenes of recently bombed buildings, homes, power stations, a water
purification plant, grain stores, resultant from the UK and US sorties.

I suggested to the driver that we return to an army checkpoint and ask the
way. One of the soldiers said he was coming off duty and lived near the Ur
turning, in exchange for a ride home, he would show us the road. The group
had brought leaflets in Arabic, a mission statement saying they were against
sanctions and has come in friendship and to learn. Should we give him one?
They whispered to me - he a soldier, we from countries responsible for the
decimation of his home region we were so graphically witnessing.
ŒAbsolutely¹. I said.

He took the leaflet and read it slowly and carefully, then re-read it. Then
he turned to us, nine is all, and said: ŒIt is incumbant upon us, here in
the south, to offer hospitality to travellers. My home is simple, but I have
five chickens, you will eat well.¹ The next day was the end of Ramadan and
the great Muslim Feast of Eid and we knew what those chickens¹ destiny was -
yet he was prepared to sacrifice them for representatives of Œthe enemy¹ who
had attempted to put out the hand of friendship. (Needless to say, we made
excuses and declined, moved beyond words.)

Another abiding memory of the reality of bombings is from February 1998,
when the world was convinced Iraq would be bombed again. I was in Baghdad
and had gone to talk to a woman with yet another heartbreaking story to
tell. I talked to her in a large, previously well appointed, but now empty
living room. In common with many, she had sold all her furniture to provide
and survive.

As we talked, the room began to fill up with children. A stranger is a rare
treat in isolated Iraq and they crept in, sitting on the floor, quiet as
mice, watching my every move, heads following my pen as if at a mini tennis
match.  Dusk was falling as I left and they followed me out in a small wave
as I went to the battered car, perhaps fifty of them, between about three
and thirteen.

As we drew away, they ran alongside, laughing, waving, blowing kisses. When
they could no longer keep up, I looked back and they were standing together
in the road, still laughing and blowing kisses. It was February 23rd, the
night the military planners estimated would be Œthe darkest night¹, the one
the most optimum for bombing. I went back to my hotel, lay on the bed and

In the event, Iraq was not bombed that February, instead it was bombed in
time for Christmas, with Prime Minister Blair standing in front of his
resplendent tree outside Downing Street, announcing the onslaught. Forty six
percent of Iraq¹s population is sixteen or under. Those who were just four
years old when the embargo was implemented and resultantly have had their
entire childhood snatched away, are now just old enough to be drafted into
Iraq¹s army and end their fledgling lives as cannon fodder in George Bush¹s
war for oil.

And make no mistake, this will be a nuclear war, we are looking into the
abyss. In 1991, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, the Israeli military
spokesman was asked what would happen if Iraq sent missiles to Israel in the
impending Gulf war. Without missing a beat he responded: ŒWe will turn
Baghdad into a sheet of glass.¹ The last Bush Administration restrained
Israel, this one will not - Defence Secretary Rumsfeld has made it clear he
has no hesitation in using nuclear weapons.

Imagine the unimaginable - wiping out the country which brought the world
writing, the first fomestic laws nearly two thousand years before Christ,
algebra, mathematics; which had the first irrigation systems twelve thousand
years ago, invented the first time piece, used Pythagoras theorum seventeen
hundred years before Pythagoras. The world¹s first College of Pharmacology
was established in Baghdad. Astronomy was established in Iraq  - the three
wise men learned how to follow the star from Mesapotamia¹s teaching. For
twelve hundred years, Baghdad (Dar Es Salaam - City of Peace) was regarded
as one of the most refined, civilized and festive cities on earth. Iraq is
not Saddam - it is our common heritage - a world heritage site.

William Blum, in his new book: ŒRogue State¹ (and he is not referring to
Iraq ..) offers a new way to conflict resolve, he writes: ŒIf I were
President, I could stop terrorist attacks ... in a few days. Permanently. I
would first apologise to all the widows and orphans, the tortured,
impoverished and all the many millions of other victims of American
imperialism. Then I would announce, in all sincerity, to every corner of the
world, that America¹s global interventions have come to an end ... I would
then reduce the military budget by at least ninety percent and use the
savings to pay reparations to the voctims. There would be more than enough.
One year¹s military budget of three hundred and thirty billion dollars is
equal to more than eighteen thousand dollars an hour for every hour since
Jesus Christ was on earth.

³That¹s what I would do in my first three days as President. On the fourth
I¹d be assassinated¹, concludes Blum. Friends, somehow we must attempt to
force our reckless, feckless leaders to strive to do just this.

Perhaps I can finish with two memories. One is from way back in 1993,
walking round a hospital in Baghdad with film maker Miriam Ryle and a young
doctor, who was lucidly explaining the conditions of her young patients -
and that each one of them was unlikely to survive, for the want often of the
simplest medications. Suddenly her composure cracked and she simply said:
ŒThere¹s a hole, where my heart should be.¹ I think there is a hole in the
heart of anyone who visits Iraq and sees for themselves.

The last words are those of a young father, in October this year, who was
helplessly watching his ten year old son die of leukaemia. If he could send
a message to Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, I asked him, what
would it be?Tears welled in his eyes and he said:
 ŒPlease, just tell them: stop this slaughter of innocents.¹

Thank you.

* (or

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