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Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 09:38 GMT
'I'm protesting for Iraq's children'
Richard Byrne protesting against sanctions on Iraq
Richard Byrne is leading a protest at Northwood army base
Anti-war group Voices in the Wilderness is protesting at the armed forces' HQ in Northwood, west London, over the weekend, against possible conflict with Iraq.

Protester Richard Byrne explains why he thinks military action would be catastrophic.


I am opposed to the war on Iraq for lots of reasons, mainly because it is likely to cause massive civilian casualties.

And also because all violence produces cycles of violence which come back again and again.

After the attack on Iraq in 1991, the UN assessment team described the scene there as "near apocalyptic destruction, with most modern means of life support destroyed or rendered tenuous."

Twelve years of comprehensive economic UN sanctions have greatly reduced Iraq's ability to repair that damage.

I saw the effects of that for myself when I visited Iraq in January 2001 - children dying quietly in hospital wards from malnutrition and pneumonia.

They are less obvious than the people killed directly by bombing raids.

They are the children killed by sanctions - the weapon of mass destruction Hans Blix is not looking for but which he will encounter everywhere in Iraq.

In Iraq children get diarrhoea from dirty drinking water because Iraq's public health infrastructure, which before 1990 compared well with western Europe, was largely destroyed by the bombing in 1991.

'Oppose all wars'

They get treated in hospital, they get better, they go back to the dirty water, they come back into hospital.

Every time they come back they are a bit more malnourished, their immune systems a bit more depleted, on a downward spiral.

An Iraqi refugee child in 1991
"Children get ill from drinking water since pipes were bombed"
Carol de Rooy, head of UN children's body Unicef, estimated nearly one in four children in Iraq under the age of five is now malnourished.

This war that George Bush seems to want so much will produce many more dead and malnourished children in Iraq.

Medact, the global health campaign, estimates between 48,000 and 500,000 people, predominantly civilians, could die.

And the UN estimates that the impact would be worse than the first Gulf attacks.

There are about 22 million people in Iraq, 9.6 million of whom are under the age of 16.

They will be most affected by war. It is children whom all wars affect the most.

As I have worked for the last few years campaigning against sanctions on Iraq and lately against the "war on terrorism", I have realised we have to oppose all war, not just some wars.

Military machine

When we talk about the war on Iraq - whether the weapons inspectors might find something, whether there will be another UN resolution or not - it all ultimately distracts from the truth that our addiction to weapons and militarism will always drive government policy to condemn children to suffer.

We have to do what we can to disrupt the war machine

That is why this weekend's protest is so important.

It is right to try to influence politicians while we are stuck with them, but it is easy to become too focused on the politicians and forget that every person who works in the military is making an individual choice to help the war machine.

Some of them make that choice at a ridiculously young age.

At Northwood, Britain's military HQ where we will be gathering this weekend, the people who run the war machine spend every day planning wars, looking around the world to see what "use" Britain can put it's military to, to further Britain's economic and strategic interests.

We have to do what we can to disrupt the war machine and we have to drag Northwood out of the shadows and put it on the map.

I hope that people will keep coming back to Northwood once they know what an important part of the war machine it is.

Maybe if enough people do, then Britain's ability to ruin futures for children all over the world will be diminished.

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