Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Margaret Hassan, the Heroine Who Offered Hope for Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Margaret Hassan, the Heroine Who Offered Hope for Iraq

Article excerpt

Margaret? Margaret Hassan kidnapped? She who said to me that soon, very soon, "there will be more than one lost generation" in Iraq?

Is there no end to the kidnappers' targets? Margaret Hassan was abducted Oct. 19, at 7:30 in the morning, on her way to work running Care International's Iraq operation. Soon afterward, Arabic al-Jazeera television showed her sitting in a room looking calm, if concerned. It also showed close-ups of her identification papers and said an unnamed Iraqi group claimed it had kidnapped her.

Margaret was the enemy of United Nations sanctions on Iraq. She is the symbol of all those who believe that Iraq-a real, free, unoccupied Iraq-has a future; and all we can be told is that she, too, has joined the legion of the unpersons, the "disappeared," the list of those who, because of their language or the color of their eyes or their nationality, have slipped into Iraq's dark hole.

The ultimate disgrace yesterday was to hear British diplomats who supported those deadly sanctions weeping their crocodile tears for "Margaret."

Tony Blair rushed to say Britain will do all that it can to secure her release. "There is really a limit at this stage to what I can say to you, but obviously we will do whatever we can," he said, while standing beside the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, in London.

"It shows the kind of people we are up against that they are prepared to kidnap somebody like this. We do not know which group it is."

But Mr. Blair, remember, fully supported the sanctions which Margaret loathed. And, of course, he supported George Bush's invasion that led to the chaos that has engulfed Iraq.

Kidnappers have killed at least 35 foreign nationals in Iraq since the invasion. Iraqis seen as co-operating with the occupation forces or the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government have also been targeted for kidnapping. This week two Macedonian contractors who had been abducted were beheaded. And two weeks ago the same fate befell the British contractor Ken Bigley. And now Margaret has been taken. Margaret, who above all is a humanitarian.

I first met her when The Independent exposed the use by the Americans and British of depleted uranium munitions in the 1991 Gulf war, and the explosion of cancers and leukemia that afflicted Iraqi children in the years that followed. Readers of The Independent donated £250,000 for medicines and Care-for which Margaret workedundertook to distribute the vaccines around the hospitals of Iraq. Margaret and her Dublin colleague Judy Morgan found the trucks to take these vital medicines across Iraq to try to save the small creatures in the children's "wards of death."

I watched Margaret cajole the truck drivers, plead with the hospitals, bargain with the air-conditioning moguls to deliver vincristine and other fluids to the children's hospitals in the October heat.

For 30 years Margaret has devoted herself to Iraq. She started working for Care International soon after it began operations there in 1991, at the end of the Gulf war. She has a staff of 60 Iraqis who run nutrition, health and water programs the length and breadth of the country. She is married to an Iraqi and, though Irish-born, she carries British and Iraqi nationality.

She "considers herself an Iraqi national," Amber Meikle, Care International's spokeswoman, said yesterday. "We want to stress that she sees herself as an Iraqi. …

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