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[casi] Dear Mr President - About the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra....

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Published on Tuesday, December 9, 2003 by

Dear Mr President - About the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra....

by Felicity Arbuthnot

Dear Mr President,

Another day, another stunt. Not a plastic turkey this time, but a star
studded event at the Kennedy Center, featuring the Iraq National Symphony
Orchestra, who have been flown in by the State Department for a' healing'
event after the illegal invasion and destruction of their country.

Michael Kaiser, Cultural Ambassador for the State Department thought the
event would be: "a wonderful way for Americans to learn about Iraqis and for
Iraqis to learn about Americans." The Ambassador apparently is unaware that
Iraqis knows all about Americans, Iraq was, after all, the country which
brought the world all we call civilized, writing, mathematics, the first
written records, the first laws, the wheel. Baghdad (formerly Dar Es Salaam
- City of Peace) was dubbed 'the Paris of the ninth century.' Iraq and
Palestine have the highest number of Ph.Ds, per capita, on earth. Iraq,
ancient Mesopotamia, is 'the cradle of civilization.'

Iraqis have been particularly excercised by America since Hiroshima Day 1990
when the most draconian embargo ever administered by the UN was imposed
under pressure of the US. Name just about anything one takes for granted
from books to bed linen, disinfectant to deodorant, fly spray to film - and
it was banned or blocked by the US and its little friend, the UK.

Mr President, as you sit in the front row of the auditorium with Laura, you
will no doubt notice that Conductor of the Iraq Symphony Orchestra, Mohammed
Amin Ezzet, has very disfigured hands. His neck and chest, too, are
disfigured appallingly. For nearly thirteen years, all spare parts for
electricity were also vetoed, which led to a burns epidemic as the poor
resorted to candles, even a wick in a bottle of kerosene - which routinely
exploded. The better off bought cheaply made lamps in the market, which also
exploded on an ongoing basis. People resorted to inventive ways of cooking,
which also routinely led to tragedy.

The thoroughly democratic embargo left few unscathed. Mohammed Amin Ezzet is
the gentlest of men, to whom his music and family is all. Three years ago he
had had just celebrated winning a pan-Arab award for composition,
orchestration and conducting of an original piece of music. Returning home,
he went to his study to compose, his wife, Jenan prepared the next day's
rice, placing it to cook slowly overnight, on top of the gas heater - the
electricity was off. Her nightdress touched the flame. Mohammed, hearing her
screams ran and threw himself over her.

Jenan was so burned, that in hospital, only her mother was allowed to see
her - and prayed for her death. She died the next day. Mohammed's arms chest
and hands are damaged beyond repair. When I visited him in hospital two
weeks later, he was still too ill to be told of his wife's death. Jenan
means 'bright eyes.' Two years later, he said quietly, he wished he had died

Your father, his successor President Clinton and your Administration, even
vetoed strings for this orchestra's violins, parts for their flutes, lutes,
oboes. They were denied music scores. They managed, however, to largely keep
going and played, poignant, superb music, marred by the odd flawed or
missing note due to lack of parts. Some orchestra members left the country
to earn hard currency to send home to help their families in the grinding
misery of the embargo. Their venue in the Al Rashid Theatre (named after
Baghdad's seventh century founder) became pretty battered and run down, but
hearing them play Chopin, Swan Lake, or Strauss brought tears to the eyes,
their courage and battered setting and instruments, somehow heightening the
beauty and their indomitable spirit.

Last year, Mr President, a Chicago based campaigning group called Voices in
the Wilderness <>  took with them to Baghdad, spare
parts, strings and music scores to this orchestra. Your government is
threatening them with either ten years in jail or a fine exceeding one
million dollars. Your troops allowed the orchestra's precious theatre to be
looted and ruined after your 'liberation' and members of the orchestra,
friends of the founder of Voices, Kathy Kelly - who was in Baghdad, not
safely in Washington, during the war - went to her hotel and broke down in
tears. They had survived the embargo, the 1991 onslaught, a maiming, Jenan's
and a number of other deaths due to 'embargo related causes', but it was
your your actions which reduced them to collapse.

So as you spin the upbeat news story of the Iraq's National Symphony
Orchestra coming to town, get into 'healing', shake Mr Ezzet's scarred,
misshapen hand, and listen to Bizet and Beethoven, what about another bit of
healing - putting out a hand to Kathy Kelly and Voices and rescinding the
nastiest, pettiest act of its kind in modern history. Penalizing humanity.

Enjoy the concert - oh, and don't go offering them turkey at the reception,
sorry for the pun, but it didn't go down too well.

Yours etc,

Felicity Arbuthnot

Felicity Arbuthnot has written and broadcast widely on Iraq and with Denis
Halliday was senior researcher for John Pilger's Award winning documentary:
'Paying the <>  Price - Killing the Children
of Iraq.'

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