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Voices January letter - Write to the Press!

Hello everyone. Glenn here from the Voices letter-writing group on Iraq

Apologies first off for the absence of last month's letter material. There
are lots of reasons why it just didn't happen - I shan't bore you with them.
Hopefully won't happen again.

Anyway, back to business.

The 16th of this month, as you are no doubt aware, will be the 10th
anniversary of the start of the Gulf war. There will undoubtedly be a number
of articles in the press that gifted writers like yourselves can hang
letters-to-the-editor on.

So that is exactly what we are suggesting for this month's letter. Keep your
eyes peeled for articles on the anniversary in your paper, and if you can,
get a letter of as quickly as possible, ideally be email.

Obviously each article will be different, so responses will need to be
tailored to the article they refer to. However, we include below some
probably helpful things to mention.

Importantly - don't think you've failed if your letter doesn't get
published. Most letters don't. But if the paper gets 10 thoughtful letters
on sanctions they are likely to print at least one. If they only receive one
or two letters, they may leave it out altogether. So everyone's efforts are

Also attached below is an extremely helpful 'how-to' guide produced by
Gabriel at
the Voices office, distilling what we have learned from getting, and not
getting, letters published in the national press.


Be relevant
Keep it short (more difficult than it sounds!)
Keep it simple
Get it in quickly
Don't rant
Include contact details
Include something novel
Check your facts
Post to many papers
Keep trying!

Also attached is a 'Quick response' sheet to various questions that are
often asked. Hope it comes in handy too.

Thanks once again for your continued efforts, and especially all those who
have written back with responses. It is greatly appreciated.

Good luck!



Here are some sound-bites re. the 1991 Gulf War :

A. In March 1991 a UN mission to Iraq reported a situation of
"near-apocalyptic" destruction in the wake of the Gulf War with "most means
of modern life support ... destroyed or rendered tenous."

B. During the bombing campaign the 'allies' deliberately destroyed Iraq's
electricity system. Indeed, Colonel John A. Warden III, the deputy director
of strategy, doctrine and plans for the US Air Force, told the Washington
Post that the wrecking of Iraq's electricity system ‘gives us long-term
leverage’: ‘Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity. He needs
help. If there are political objectives that the UN coalition has, it can
say, “Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to
come in and fix your electricity”.’

According to Human Rights Watch ‘insofar as the civilian population is
concerned, it makes little or no difference whether [a civilian facility] is
attacked or destroyed, or is made inoperable by the destruction of the
electrical plant supplying it power. In either case, civilians suffer the
same effects - they are denied the use of a public utility indispensable for
their survival.’

In other words, if the destruction of electrical power plants was
deliberate, then the US-led forces effectively bombed hospitals and sewage
treatment and water purification plants - the kinds of war crimes that would
have led to hanging at Nuremberg.

C. According to the data collected by the Harvard-based International Study
Team in August 1991 (which surveyed more than 9000 households in nearly 300
population centers), there were an estimated 47,000 deaths among children
under the age of five during the first eight months of 1991 as a result of
the Gulf War and its aftermath.

Letters to the Editor : a brief how-to guide.
a voices in the wilderness briefing
 November 2000

To take out an advert in one of the broad sheets would cost you a small
fortune. Yet, every day, the broad sheets provide a space which,  with a
little effort, you can use to get whatever message you want across to a
large group [1] of people FOR FREE. This space is reputedly one of the most
read parts of the paper : the letters page.

The following simple tips are based on 3 years experience of writing letters
to the broad sheets. Following these tips obviously can’t guarantee
publication but it may help to increase your chances.

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 :

? 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
? Saturday papers : you have until midday on Sunday to respond.
? 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 ...

Here are the e-mail addresses for the letters pages of the 5 major daily
broad sheets :

The Guardian :
The Independent :
The Daily Telegraph :
The Financial Times :
The Times :

Here are the Sunday broad sheets :

Independent on Sunday :
Sunday Telegraph :
Sunday Times :
The Observer :

Finally, the Guardian also produce a weekly news digest : The Guardian
Weekly, with it’s own letters page (a lot of ex pats read this) :

[1] The Guardian Media Book 2001 gives the following average circulation
figures for the period Jan - June 2000 : Independent (224,000) ; Guardian
(396,534), Financial Times (457,653), The Times (722,642), Daily Telegraph
(1,033,680) ; Independent on Sunday (248,564), Observer (415,004), Sunday
Times (1,369,461), Sunday Telegraph (811,408).


Sanctions Quick-Response Sheet
5th December 2000

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).
6. 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
7.  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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