Peace marches mark New Year's Eve in Iraq

Two Iraqi girls, standing next to an Iraqi flag, take part in a children's anti-war rally in Baghdad on Tuesday. Some 1,500 Iraqi children marched to the UNDP office chanting anti-American slogans.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 1, 2003 at 1:05 a.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Hundreds of Iraqi children led by an actress marched through Baghdad streets on New Year's Eve chanting anti-war slogans and releasing white pigeons into the air. Some cried, "Down with America, enemy of peace."
Other Iraqis and visiting American and European peace advocates staged New Year's anti-war demonstrations, while the United States and Britain persisted that Saddam Hussein prove he has no weapons of mass destruction or face an attack.
President Bush warned that Saddam "has not heard the message." The president said Tuesday he had not decided whether to attack Iraq but suggested the economic cost of a war to disarm Saddam was better than risking an attack from him later on.
"Any attack of Saddam Hussein or a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy," Bush said in Texas, responding to a question about reports that his administration was ready to spend between $50 billion to $60 billion to fight the Iraqi leader.
For U.N. inspectors searching for forbidden arms, New Year's Eve was a normal day: They visited seven sites, including a plant manufacturing short-range missiles and a medical research center.
Iraq invited chief inspector Hans Blix to visit in the coming weeks, expressing hope that remaining questions about Iraq's lethal weapons could soon be resolved. A letter to Blix from Amir al-Saadi, chief Iraqi liaison to the inspectors, said al-Saadi hoped their meetings could "review the aspects of cooperation between us during the past period and the prospective to enhance such cooperation in the coming months."
Also Tuesday, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri complained to the United Nations about a U.S. airstrike last week that Iraq says killed three people and injured 16.
The United States announced U.S. and British warplanes hit again Monday, attacking Iraq air defense facilities after an Iraqi fighter jet penetrated the southern no-fly zone.
The peace march through Baghdad by an estimated 2,000 children was guided by police and led by a Syrian actress who uses one name, Raghda. She asked the crowd, "What is the new year bringing to Iraqi children? What is Santa Claus bringing them? Bombs?"
Many chants and posters echoed Iraqi government slogans, such as "Bush, Bush listen carefully - we all love Saddam Hussein."
But some youngsters expressed their own fears.
"America wants to strike us to take our oil," 12-year-old Heba Saad said. "I'm afraid, but God willing, there will be no war."
Ahmed Hassan Jassim, 8, was wrapped in an Iraqi flag and carried a banner that read, "No to war, no to sanctions, no to America." He said his aunt gave him the banner.
A delegation of American church officials prayed for peace with Iraqi Christians at the Church of St. Mary in downtown Baghdad Tuesday evening, and activists from the U.S.-based Iraq Peace Team demonstrated outside the U.N. inspectors' headquarters.
Jim Winkler, an official of the United Methodist Church, said the delegation had found "a human face" to Iraq in its talks with people at schools, hospitals, churches and mosques. He said he would take a message back to the American people: "Remember there are ordinary people in Iraq who want peace as much as you and I do."
Winkler told The Associated Press he believed church opposition to a war had kept a conflict from starting already. "I believe in my heart we can keep pushing back the prospective date for the war and let the arms inspectors do their work."
For many Iraqis, New Year's Eve was a reminder of the poverty they face because of 12 years of sanctions imposed after Saddam invaded Kuwait. The sanctions cannot be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons have been eliminated.
Jinan Abdel Ahad, 40, said she hoped sanctions would end in the new year so "to be able, we and our children, to lead a normal life." She and friends were planning a small party at home. "We can't afford to party out."
The story was different in Baghdad's wealthier district, where waiters at some restaurants said all tables were booked and evening shows included belly dancers, singers and disk jockeys. Revelers here can expect to pay about $11 per person, the average monthly salary of a teacher.

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