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Hugh in Iraq

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Eddie Mair | 12:02 UK time, Monday, 16 August 2010

On Broadcasting House on Sunday Hugh escaped the sandbags, razor wire and blast walls that surround the BBC's bureau in Baghdad and relaxes to the sounds of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, as they prepare for a concert:

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"Annie Melconian, leader of the orchestra - an Armenian Iraqi from Baghdad

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The conductor is Paul MacAlindin from Scotland - he's one of twelve foreign tutors who coached the musicians for their concert.

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Frand 'Trumpeter' Nashat, as he signs his emails. He's 16. I fist met him - at the Baghdad School of Music and Dance - when he was a young boy. Virtually a prisoner in his Baghdad home during the bad years, he told me then that he dreamed of being able to ride a bicycle outside - and of being able to play football. Now he says he plays 'a lot of football.' But he has outgrown his bicycle.

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And that (second from left) is Frand's sister, Rania. She also took a turn at conducting, and her brother played and took pictures:

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And here are some other members of the orchestra - who had never met before. And because it was too dangerous to travel to Baghdad for auditions, they auditioned by uploading video to YouTube:

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And as a 'warm up' the night before, the orchestra gave a concert in an Erbil garden. Nice cool evening? Er, no. At 10pm it was 46 deg centigrade (110 F)

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And here they are in the Shaheed Saad Abdullah concert hall in Erbil. They received a standing ovation:

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The UK flag is there alongside the flags of Iraq and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan because the concert was part-funded by the British Council. The UK ambassador Dr. John Jenkins was there. He gave me an interview in fluent Arabic. I even managed one question in Arabic, which must have made sense because he answered it!"

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