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Fay's question to the PM

Hats off to Fay for getting her question published and to everyone else who
wrote in ! I wouldn't be at all surprised if the reason they published an
anti-sanctions question was the large number of e-mails they received on the

> With no right
> of reply I now feel that things like this may not help us -- it
> may just give the government another platform for their propaganda.

Sure, Blair just spouted the same old line but :

a) he *had to answer an anti-sanctions question* - a few years ago this
would have been unheard of. This, surely, is one of the ways that policy
makers gauge what sorts of things are of concern to the general public


b) (following Fay's suggestion) we now have a golden letter-writing
opportunity !

Over the last three years voices has had a lot of experience (and some
success) in writing letters to the so-called 'quality press'. Below I've

A) a few tips about writing such letters that we've picked up from

B) a sample letter from Andrea in response to today's piece


C) some 'quick responses' to some of the sorts of things that the British
Government (and others) like to say.

Hope some of this is useful ! Best wishes,

voices uk


1. Be ‘relevant’ ...
The broad sheets are remarkably parochial. If possible, you should always
make a reference to something that's appeared in the paper you’re writing to
(eg. an article, another letter etc...) This is absolutely key, since the
broad sheets don’t usually publish letters which fail this criterion.
    For anti-sanctions campaigners this means looking out for articles,
letters, editorials etc... that could be the springboard for a letter.

Examples :

New Statesman, 3rd April 2000. Letter from Gabriel Carlyle.
‘Robin Cook writes that the UN oil-for-food programme “has been working for
three years and could have started years earlier had Saddam not blocked it”
(“Will he film Saddam’s next victims ?”, 27th March). The claim is worth
examining in some detail ...’

The Spectator, 26th August 2000. Letter from Andrea Needham.
‘John Laughland opens his piece on British foreign policy (‘We are only
obeying orders’, 12 August) with a reference to the die-in for the people of
Iraq, which, as he notes, took place on 7 August ...’

2. Keep it short.
As an ordinary member of the public you don’t have much space to play with :
2-300 words maximum (MP’s and Ambassadors seem to have slightly greater
leeway). Even then, you should expect your letter to be edited down :
sometimes with your consent, sometimes not and the shorter your original,
the less chance they’ll have to mutilate it.  If you write your letter using
Microsoft Word then you can use the ‘word count’ tool to keep track of how
many words you’ve written.

3. Keep it simple.
Keep your letter as simple as possible. Focus on one or two points, not
twelve. Try to ensure that your letter is intelligible to the average
reader, who may lack your specialist knowledge. Keep an eye out for juicy
quotes and figures for your letters.

4. Time is of the essence ...
The letters pages seem to have a very short ‘memory’, so you need to get
your letters to them as soon as possible. You don’t stand much chance of
publication if you’re writing in response to a letter that appeared two
weeks previously.

E-mail is the best (and, if you have it, the simplest) method of writing
to the letters pages, followed by fax. Terrestrial mail comes a very distant

Here’s a rough timetable :

i) Dailies : for a piece that appears on a weekday (ie. Monday - Friday) you
should try and get your response to the paper the same day not later than
ii) Saturday papers : you have until midday on Sunday to respond.
iii) Sunday papers : you’ll usually have several days (though it varies from
paper to paper).

5. Don't rant.
They won’t publish it.

6. Make sure to include an address and telephone number in your e-mail.
Many papers *require* this from letter writers.

7. Novelty.
Your letter is more likely to get published if it contains some element of
novelty eg. a new piece of information, a reference to an act of civil
disobedience on the part of the author(s), a reference to a new web-site, or
a celebrity signatory (or signatories). The more letters you have published,
the more important this sort of thing probably is.

8. Check your facts.
Make sure you know what you’re talking about. Never quote something from
memory, always double check. If you use a secondary source, make sure it’s
accurate. Only use sources that the average reader is going to consider
credible (eg. Human Rights Watch).

9. Hit as many outlets as possible.
Opportunities for anti-sanctions letters to the editor often come in bunches
eg. when the August 1999 Unicef report (on child mortality in Iraq) was
published, all of the broad sheets, except the Telegraph, covered the story.
One can often use slightly modified versions of a letter to one paper to
send to the others. Needless to say, the more papers you write to, the more
chance you have of getting published ... The only fly in the ointment here
is that The Times will only publish letters which are exclusive to The Times
ie. they won’t publish your letter if you’ve written a similar letter to the
other papers on the same theme.

10. If at first you don’t succeed ...
If you’ve followed all of the above then a major factor in getting your
letters pages is simply persistence. A good point can often be recycled and
used again if there were no takers the first
time ...


Tony Blair's response to Fay Dowker's question about the economic sanctions
on Iraq is deeply unconvincing (You ask the questions special, 13th December

Mr Blair claims that $16 billion has been made available "this year" through
the UN 'oil for food' programme. The actual figure is less than $12.5
billion but even the erroneous $16 bn figure is dwarfed by the $50-$100 bn
that the Economist Intelligence Unit (conservatively) estimates is needed to
reconstruct Iraq's essential civilian infrastructure : sewage, sanitation,
hospitals, electricity etc... The current UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for
Iraq, Tun Myat, recently stated that “the overall well-being of the people
[of Iraq]" will "not improve" until these basic services are restored.

Mr Blair claims that Saddam Hussein "doesn't" "use oil revenues to buy food,
medicine and other humanitarian goods." This is also untrue, though the UN
Sanctions Committee (ie. the US and Britain) has placed some $2.5 billion of
humaniatarian goods 'on hold' : a "major factor" impeding the programme, in
the words of the UN Secretary-General.

Mr Blair claims that “only one person is responsible for the plight of Iraqi
children ... Saddam himself.” He is almost alone in this belief. The Prime
Minister would do well to heed the advice of Human Rights Watch and “stop
pretending that sanctions have nothing to do with the dire public health
crisis facing millions of Iraqis.”

Andrea Needham
voices in the wilderness uk


16b Cherwell Street
Oxford OX4 1BG

tel. 01865 - 243 232

1. Iraq has plenty of money available to purchase food and medicines. Any
problems are the fault of Saddam Hussein.

Quick Response : The humanitarian crisis isn’t simply a matter of ‘food and
medicines’, it’s a result of two factors :  the massive deterioration of
Iraq’s civilian infrastructure (electricity, water, sanitation, sewage,
hospitals etc...) and the collapse of Iraq’s economy. These two factors are
both overwhelmingly the result of the 1991 Gulf War and 10 years of economic

Whilst there is more money available now (because of high oil prices) :

a) The sums available are inadequate. The FCO talks about $16 billion being
available for the humanitarian programme ‘this year’. The figure is actually
wrong (the real figure is more like $12-13 billion  ) but still falls well
short of what’s needed eg. the Economist Intelligence Unit has estimated the
cost of reconstructing Iraq's essential infrastructural utilities at $50 -
$100 bn. According to the most senior UN aid official working in Iraq (UN
Humanitarian Co-ordinator, Tun Myat) : “the overall well-being of the people
[of Iraq]" will "not improve" unless "the basics - housing, electricity,
water and sanitation - [are] restored" (Press Briefing, 19th October).

b) the UN takes a third of all monies to pay for ‘war reparations’ and its
own expenses.


c)  a programme like oil-for-food can’t address the problems of
sanctions-induced economic collapse. eg. according to Human Rights Watch
quote (August 4th) :

 "An emergency commodity assistance program like oil-for-food, no matter how
well funded or well run, cannot reverse the devastating consequences of war
and ten years of virtual shutdown of Iraq's economy ... The deterioration in
Iraq's civilian infrastructure is so far-reaching that is can only be
reversed with extensive investment and development efforts."
2. Isn’t it all Saddam’s fault ? After all all he has to do is co-operate
with the inspectors and Iraq can be free of sanctions.

Quick response : It’s immoral to inflict collective punishment on the
general population of Iraq as a means of exerting pressure on the Iraqi
Government. As The Economist recently (8th April) noted that :

“If year in, year out, the UN were systematically killing Iraqi children by
airstrikes, western governments would declare it intolerable, no matter how
noble the intention.

They should find their existing policy just as unacceptable. In democracies,
the end does not justify the means.”

3. Isn’t Saddam spending all the money on palaces and luxuries for his
cronies ?

Quick response : No. According to the British Government’s own figures, if
all illicit revenues available to the Iraqi Government were channelled into
the official humanitarian programme (‘oil for food’) this would increase
revenues by less than 3%.

By contrast the UN currently diverts 33% of all ‘oil for food’ to pay for
‘war reparations’. The mega-rich Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC) was recently
awarded $15 billion compensation : the folk at the KPC aren’t suffering from
malnutrition and water-borne disease.
4. Isn’t the Iraqi Government hoarding all the food and medicine ?

Quick response : No. According to the current UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator
for Iraq, Tun Myat, Iraq’s food distribution system is “second to none”. In
March his predecessor, Hans von Sponeck (1st March 2000), had stated that
the distribution of supplies coming into Iraq was “totally satisfactory”
with 91.7 % of supplies distributed. For medical supplies the figure was
lower (72%) “but this reflected World Health Organisation recommended
stockpiling practices” and the time needed for quality control.
5.     What about the 15,000 Ventolin inhalers that turned up in Lebanon ?
[these inhalers were allegedly purchased under the ‘oil for food’ programme]

Quick response : There’s never been any evidence of large scale diversion
under the programme. The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq,  Tun Myat,
believes that all the necessary arrangements have been made to ensure that
goods under oil-for-food are used for the agreed purposes (Press briefing,
October 2000).
5. Child mortality rates have actually fallen in northern Iraq. This region
isn’t under the Iraqi Government’s control - doesn’t this prove that
sanctions aren’t the problem and that Saddam is ?

Quick response : According to UNICEF, who conducted the surveys which
produced these figures on child mortality, “the difference [in child
mortality rates between the north and south/center] cannot be attributed to
the differing ways the Oil for Food Program is implemented in the two parts
of Iraq”. The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator, Tun Myat, reiterated this point
in a recent press briefing, stating “that [the] improvement in nutrition in
the north was not due to differences in distribution, or the fact that the
United Nations was responsible for implementation of the programme in the
north.” (UN Press Briefing, 19th November 2000).

Important differences (between the north and the south/center) include :

a) “the fact that the north has received far more support per capita from
the international community than the south and centre of the country”
(UNICEF, August 1999)
b) “that the sanctions have not been so rigorously enforced in the north as
the border is more ‘porous’ than in the [south/center]” (UNICEF, August
c)  that the north “received 22% more per capita [than the south/center] and
gets 10% of all UN-controlled assistance in currency” while the rest of the
country receives only commodities (UNICEF, August 1999)
d) the north (with roughly 15% of Iraq’s population) has 50% of Iraq’s
productive arable land (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, September
6.  Don't we have to maintain sanctions in order to prevent Saddam Hussein
from blowing up the world ?

Quick response : According to the former head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler,
economic sanctions “simply aren’t working other than to harm the Iraqi
people.” “we now know that using economic sanctions to bring about
compliance in the weapons area does not work. So de-linking [military
sanctions from economic sanctions] would address the need to stop doing
something that isn’t working.”

According to the former chief of UNSCOM’s concealment unit, Scott Ritter “it
was possible as early as 1997 to determine that, from a strictly qualitative
standpoint, Iraq had been disarmed” :

Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical and
biological agent, if it possessed any at all, and the industrial means to
produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent
monitoring. The same was true of Iraq’s nuclear and ballistic missile
capabilities. As long as monitoring inspections remained in place, Iraq
presented a WMD-based threat to no one ...”
(Arms Control Today, June 2000)

The US and Britain destroyed UNSCOM in December 1998 by launching an illegal
bombing campaign against Iraq (‘Operation Desert Fox’). Prior to this the US
had undermined UNSCOM by infiltrating it with members of its intelligence

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