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UN's Iraq Bombing Survivors Hold Memorial Service
Concern expressed about its expanded role in Iraq
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-08-22 12:27 (KST)   
A survivor of August 19, 2003, bombing of UN in Iraq reading at Memorial service
©2007 R. Hauben
The memorial service, "A Service of Remembrance and Healing" took place on Monday, August 20. It was the yearly commemoration held by the survivors and family members of those who died in the August 19, 2003 bombing of the UN compound in Iraq. It was held at the Church Center across the street from the United Nations in New York City and was a very moving event. Yet there was little or no coverage of it, at least in the English speaking press.

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Carolina Larriera spoke at the end of the service about keeping the spirit alive of those who were killed. She explained that she hoped this service "would inspire and continue to inspire coming generations."

Larriera is both a survivor of the bombing, who was in the compound when it was attacked, and a family member, as Sergio Vieira de Mello's partner and fiance. She had been an economic liaison for the UN in Iraq at the time of the bombing.

Larriera read a statement from Gilda Vieira de Mella, Sergio Vieira de Mello's mother. Sergio Vieira de Mello had been the UN's special representative in Iraq at the time of the bombing.

The service consisted of short readings of selections of literature interspersed with musical selections. These included "Remember me when I am gone away," a line from a reading from Christiana Rosetti's "Remember Me," "Death cannot kill what never dies," as the words in honor of the friendship and society that remains after the person has perished, from William Penn's "More Fruits of Solitude." "And never, never to forget" was from a writing by Arundhati Roy.

The music included a selection from Brahm's Violin Sonata No 1 in G, Op 78 and from Elgars' "The Enigma Variations Op 36."

Wall poster of those killed in the bombing
©2007 R. Hauben
Earlier in the day, a group of the survivors met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Larriera explained that this was the first time there had been a meeting for the survivors with the Secretary General. "We are glad he expressed his interest," said Larriera, "Up to this moment the survivors of August 19 have been neglected. This is a positive sign that the memory isn't short." She explained that she felt, "the meeting was a small step but a meaningful one."

Some of the survivors related how some of those who had suffered physical and mental injuries were handled by the United Nations in a bureaucratic way after their traumatic experience. They were given other jobs at the UN but these jobs didn't take into account the injuries they had suffered. Larriera said that the Secretary General promised that his Chief of Staff would act as an intermediary for those in the group to be able to present their concerns to him.

An issue discussed by some leaving the memorial service was the recent action by the UN Security Council to support a resolution by the U.S. and Great Britain to expand the role of the UN in Iraq. A main concern of the group who met with the Secretary General, Larriera explained, "was the safety and security of new people" who are placed in Iraq by the UN, considering it is even more dangerous in Baghdad now than in August 2003.

The bombing had showed that those fighting against the occupation in Iraq did not consider the UN to be a neutral entity. Yet if the UN is to have a legitimate function in Iraq, its obligation is to function as a neutral entity supporting the sovereignty of Iraq, not the continuing occupation.

A resident UN journalist remembered that Vieira de Mello did not initially want to go to Iraq. At a press conference at the UN Vieira de Mello said he was responding to a request from Secretary General Kofi Annan to do so. He was only to be in Iraq for four months and was due to leave at the end of September 2003.(*)

Larriera explained that Vieira de Mello believed that "it was necessary to work for the goals of the UN in the field." In this situation, however, being in the field, given the circumstances at the time, resulted in the deaths of 22 people, including Vieira de Mello himself. A feeling was expressed among some of those talking after the memorial service that there is the need to raise the question of what the lessons are from this tragedy.

An article in the British Guardian by Salim Lone, also a survivor of the August 19 event, expresses his views on this issue. Comparing the UN role in Iraq in 2003 and today, Lone explains that in 2003, "Our large staff contingent was meant to show the world that Iraq was safe enough and legitimate enough for other nations and organizations to support the occupation."

The bombing shows the tragedy that resulted, and yet, Lone notes "the same scenario is being played out again." As a number of countries are withdrawing their troops from Iraq, the U.S. is once again turning to the UN to "provide cover for [the U.S.'s-ed] pre-determined policy." Lone is not opposed to a UN role if it were part of ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but he is opposed to the UN being used to give support for a policy of continuing the U.S. domination and occupation of Iraq.

Summing up the rationale for the group of survivors and family members, Larriera said that they wanted to be treated by the UN as a group like the 9-11 families and survivors. "We want to help as a reminder of the ideals which are necessary and that our group is not neglected."
(*) An earlier version of this article misidentified the month Mr. de Mello was to leave Iraq. It was September, not August, 2003. OhmyNews regrets the error.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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