Unofficial Minutes: 5 Dec. 1998 Discussion Meeting on Iraq (Cambridge)
[electronic version]

These minutes have been collated from notes by Abi Cox and Colin Rowat of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq (Cambridge). They have not been formally approved by the members of the meeting and should be regarded as a sketch of the discussion more than a definitive guide to it. Copies can also be received electronically in either text or word processor format by contacting Colin Rowat at

The minutes are structured thematically; this crudely coincides with the chronology.


One of the main decisions made in the meeting was to hold a national day of action on the suffering of the people of Iraq on 27 February, 1999. This date marks the eighth anniversary of the official end of the Gulf War. Please plan an event for that date and encourage others to do so as well. Please also advertise the event nationally and abroad. The Cambridge CASI will be serving as a national information repository for the day; please send them information about your plans. There will be a planning meeting in London on 30 January, 1999.

List of Participants

Please note that the meeting was open to all interested parties : the participation of an organisation does not in any way imply approval or support of that organisation by CASI, Voices in the Wilderness UK or any other participants.

Al Muhajiroun

Abdullah Abu Azhar
32 Holme Road, East Ham, London E6 1LY

Omar Abu Izzadeen
56 Waverley Road, Walthamstow, London E?? 3LQ

Asher Syed
32 Holme Road, East Ham, London E6 1LY

British Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation

M. Arif, tel: (0181) 788 7766

Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq

Seb Wills, coordinator
Clare College, Cambridge CB2 1TL, tel: (01223) xxxxx,

Eleanor Coghill
Clare College, Cambridge CB2 1TL

Colin Rowat
393 King's College, Cambridge CB2 1ST; tel: (0468) 056 984;

Emergency Committee on Iraq (observer status only)

Gordon West

Green Party

Margaret Wright
4 Corona Road, Cambridge; tel/fax: (01223) 362 128

Iraqi People First

Sylvia Boyes
7 Greenhill Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 9SR

Progressive Forum

M. A. Faridi
tel: (0181) 993 1424

Sheffield Committee Against War in the Gulf

Sheila Abdullah
6 Bedford Road, Oughtbridge, Sheffield S35 0FB

Voices in the Wilderness UK ("Voices")

Joanne Baker
49 Brecknock Road, Knowle, Bristol BS4 2DE

Gabriel Carlyle
12 Trinity Road, London N2 9BX

Andrea Needham
128 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 6DG

Milan Rai
12 Trinity Road, London N2 9BX


Glenn Bassett
29 St John St, Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1LG

Erica Hunter
61 Selwyn Road, Newnham, Cambridge CB3 9EA

Nicholas Postgate

Charlie van Gelder
17 Moores Court, Cottenham CB4 8X17, tel (01954) 252 573

Richard Wilkins
Poplar and Canning Town Constituency Labour Party, tel: (0181) 980 4344

chair: Bishop Michael Hare Duke, 2 Balhousie Avenue, Perth PH1 5HN, tel/fax: (01738) 622 642

Issues informing the British position on Iraq

Discussion began with an enumeration of the issues informing policy on Iraq. These included international law (including UN procedures), moral arguments and theories of just war, concerns about Middle East security, concerns about the portability of modern weapons, perceptions of Islam and Arabs in the West, national interests, politicians' need for exit strategies from undesired policies, the economics of petrol and arms and the pillage of the cultural heritage in Iraq. Bishop Hare Duke stressed that campaigners needed to understand the role of these elements and the motivations of politicians in order to be taken seriously.

Concerns and mandates of individuals and groups

The most compelling issues for participants were: opposition to non-military sanctions against Iraq, opposition to air strikes against Iraq, the promotion of a Middle Eastern solution and encouragement of a strengthening of international law. There was also widespread agreement about the importance of giving the UK government an "exit strategy" or a "ladder to climb down" without losing face; many believed that the government felt its position to be untenable. Similarly, it was perceived that the UK government has been engaging in propaganda on this issue, the countering of which was an essential task. No individual or organisation present expressed support for the Hussein regime; most felt that Iraqi governance was an issue for the Iraqi people to resolve.

Individuals added to or differed from this as follows:

Information dissemination mechanisms

Central to our perceived needs was the ability to credibly and accurately counter the misleading or incorrect information often disseminated by the UK government in support of its position. While much of the information required to do this is in the public domain (e.g. Security Council Resolutions or UN agency reports) we are probably failing to disseminate it properly as the FCO, for example, has continued to present easily refutable arguments. For this reason Richard Wilkins wondered whether publicising existing information better should be given a higher priority than new research. He also pointed to the importance of having a "non-emergency" focus, capable of keeping attention on the effects of the sanctions even when bombing was not being threatened.

This public availability of information on the effects of sanctions was felt to be one way in which it differed from the depleted uranium (DU) issue, in which so many facts are still in dispute.

The idea of a properly researched and referenced media resource kit was mentioned as way of better disseminating this information. No group, however, was in a position to undertake this task. Voices did offer to share prototype letters that individuals could use as templates when writing their MPs; their letter focusses on what they identify as the key "big lie": that Iraq has enough money and that its suffering is its own fault. They also emphasised the importance of greater information sharing. In the absence of a body to coordinate information flows within the campaigning community Voices recommended that all groups send their own information out to each other and communicate closely. This included sharing of databases of supporters. CASI pointed out that its website contained a complete archive of articles posted in its discussion group. This resource can obviously only be used by those with web access.

The possibility of trying to establish an expert group able to respond to new issues quickly was mentioned but not acted upon. Richard Wilkins has discussed the idea with Malcolm Harper of the UK United Nations Association.

Strategy and the government

Nicholas Postgate raised the question of the target of our activity. His sources lead him to believe that Iraqi policy is formulated in Downing Street and that the FCO was largely irrelevant. Gabriel Carlyle mentioned Voices' difficulty in actually meeting representatives of the FCO. Letters addressed to Blair and local MPs seem to be sent to Cook, who forwards them down the FCO. Bishop Hare Duke and Margaret Wright stressed that the government should not be seen as "the enemy".

Within the government there may be some scope of opinion. The Overseas Development Institute, for example, is hosting a "selective sanctions" conference between 16 and 18 December to which Denis Halliday is being invited. NGOs like Christian Aid are also expected to attend. Internationally, "selective sanctions" are being discussed within the UN.

Richard Wilkins emphasised the importance of grass roots activism, noting that the CND at its peak had been in every parish pub. Similarly, the local press should be used and local Labour parties targetted as constituencies will need to reselect candidates over the next two years.

Sylvia Boyes mentioned that Iraqi People First had thanked Kofi Anna for brokering a previous deal with Iraq and asked whether it was possible to support countries opposing sanctions.

Various Events

Denis Halliday, the resigned director of the UN food-for-oil programme in Baghdad, will be touring the UK from 23-27 January, 1999. While his agenda is largely filled interested parties should contact Sebastian Wills of CASI for more information. Richard Wilkins suggested that the day of action (see below) could be publicised in the Halliday press releases.

CASI offered to coordinate a newspaper advertisement to be signed by, it is hoped, high profile individuals in the UK; the BAASO offered to help in this endeavour. Its model would be a similar advertisement in Australia which was paid for by its signatories. A list of signatories would be accumulated until there were a sufficient number to run the ad; it would then be held until an appropriate date to run it, ideally in conjunction with some other event. Sylvia Boyes suggested that such ads had not worked in the 1980s; Gordon West mentioned that the ECI had run one but was unfamiliar with the details. There was also concern that any impact that a newspaper ad might have could be overturned by the next round of photos of jets ready to bomb Iraq.

Bishop Hare Duke emphasised throughout the discussion of events the importance of a "symbolic element" capable of grabbing the imagination. He cited the Mariam campaign as an example of this. Sylvia Boyes noted that it was precisely this element that led to some of the negative reaction to that campaign. Gabriel Carlyle pointed out that celebrities can generate more symbolic interest.

Day of action

It was decided that a day of action should be held throughout the country on the 27 February, 1999. This date is the nearest Saturday to the eighth anniversary of the official end of the Gulf War (28 Feb, 1991). A planning meeting for the day is to be held in London on 30 January (11am - 5pm); Sheila Abdullah and Sylvia Boyes are to organise this. The agenda of this day should include discussions of preparatory action to be undertaken before the day and the possibility of having a national media coordinator for the day. CASI offered to serve as the information repository in the interim. Groups or individuals planning activities for the day should therefore forward their information to Colin Rowat at the above address or by e-mail to with "Day of action" in the Subject heading.

Various messages for the day were discussed. These include: "Economic Sanctions are a weapons of mass destruction", "The Gulf War is not over", "UNsanctioned Suffering" (a report title from the Center for Economic and Social Research in New York) and themes drawing attention to the pillaging of humanity's cultural heritage in Iraq. Nicholas Postgate noted that a "Gulf War is not over" theme could play into suggestions that there be a new and final military solution. Colin Rowat wondered whether a theme could be developed that would support those parts of the UK government that seem to be working in the right direction on Iraq but Gabriel Carlyle worried that a nuanced message such as this might be easier to take as approval. Mil Rai was happy to have different groups take different angles on the day.

Proposed elements of the day included badges, street stalls, grave digging and vigils. The role of visuals was stressed. Bishop Hare Duke would ask Felicity Arbuthnot, a journalist with many images of Iraq, about a gallery that had hosted a display. Ideas for images included a day's ration under food-for-oil or something drawing attention to the damaged Iraqi infrastructure.

Voices offered to design a poster for possible use as a national poster; Mil Rai, Seb Wills and Bishop Hare Duke will look at the design in advance of the 30 January meeting. The design might be based on one of Emily John's woodcuts, which are easy to reproduce. White space would be left for local groups to add their own information.

Mohammed Arif expressed concern that too much momentum would be required for a national day of action. Given the urgency of the situation he felt that a newsletter, which requires fewer resources and directlty addresses the information problem, would be more useful. M. Faridi agreed. Andrea Needham felt that sufficient resources did exist for the day, but that they were local rather than national. Mil Rai added that a proper mobilisation would overcome feelings of isolation. Voices UK would alert Voices USA about the day.

Military strikes

The ECI has a standing policy of calling for a vigil outside the FCO at 6pm on the day of military strikes against Iraq.

Mil Rai's greatest concern about strikes is that the Iraqi government has threatened to cease cooperation with the food-for-oil programme should they occur. Mil believes that, whatever FFO's deficiencies, it is what stands between the Iraqi people and famine.

[More about the 5th December 1998 meeting] - [CASI Homepage]