From Hussein Al-alak, The Iraq Solidarity Campaign 1/8/07

In an interesting turn of events, Deirdre Fitzsimmons, the sister of murdered aid worker Margaret Hassan, has called upon the “muslim” community to help retrieve the body of her sister, who was kidnapped and killed after living in Iraq for thirty years.

According to the 6/1/2007 edition of the Irish Post, Deirdre Fitzsimmons compared the “outrage generated by the former Iraqi dictators death with the silence which followed her sisters kidnapping and execution in Iraq”, a fact that is completely untrue!

She also claimed that “Muslims were angry Saddam was hanged during the Eid festival but showed no remorse when her sister was seized during Ramadan.”

As shown in the articles re-published below, the Iraqi people did try to get Margaret Hassan returned to her family – we hope this message is heard!

Freelance journalist Felicity Arbuthnot, a long-time friend of kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan, describes the charity boss’s heroic endeavours to help the people of Iraq.

Even in the bloodshed and turmoil of post-invasion Iraq, the kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, head of Care International in Iraq, is incomprehensible.Margaret Hassan fell in love with Iraq more than 30 years ago, when she travelled there as a young bride with her Iraqi husband Taheen Ali Hassan.

They had met while studying in London and the former Margaret Fitzsimmons, from Dublin in the “land of a thousand welcomes”, fell in love for a second time with Baghdad – formerly Madinat al Salam: City of Peace – and the land known through time as “the cradle of civilisation”.

She learned Arabic and took Iraqi citizenship.

Terrible emergency

She never considered leaving – not during the eight year Iran-Iraq war, the 42 day carpet bombing of the 1991 Gulf war, the 13 years of the grinding deprivation of the United Nations embargo, numerous bombings by Britain and America during those years, or when last year’s invasion became inevitable.

Instead, she fought for the people and country, of which she had become a part.She went to the UN in New York in January 2003, briefing the Security Council and UN Agencies that the majority of Iraqis were staggering under the weight of the embargo and the collapse of the infrastructure, due to prohibition of imported parts.

She briefed the British Parliament: “The Iraqi people are already living through a terrible emergency – they do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.”

She could have stayed overseas – but with war inevitable, she returned to Iraq.I first met Margaret Hassan in early 1992, months after Iraq had been “reduced to a pre-industrial age for a considerable time to come” according to the then special rapporteur to the UN.

Slender, quietly spoken, she had a will and inner core of steel.

The most obstructive official, determined not to acquiesce to any request relating to one of her projects – water, clinic, school and hospital refurbishments – would find on her departure he had given her all she had requested and suggested and agreed to more.She is a manipulative charmer on behalf of the people of Iraq.

‘Madam Margaret’

It was Iraq’s children who haunted her, she called the children of the embargo “the lost generation.”

Half of Iraq’s population is aged below 15.

Childless herself, to see her cradle infants stricken with Iraq’s myriad of illnesses which have reached epidemic proportions since 1991 – linked to the destruction of water facilities and the chemically toxic and radioactive depleted uranium weapons used – one felt her passion to protect all Iraq’s children as her own.

“There will be a second generation of lost children now,” she told the Independent newspaper’s Robert Fisk despairingly, recently.

I have a memory that encapsulates Margaret and the love she inspired.We were filming in an area of exceptional deprivation and poverty, not without its criminal element – poverty breeds desperation.

A crowd gathered. On seeing Margaret, thin, stressed faces, broke into wide smiles, children ran and hugged her round the knees chanting: “Madam Margaret, Madam Margaret…”. Iraqis protect those who help them, love them, even to their own lives. The kidnappings of aid workers, friendly journalists, bewilder them.

When Margaret was driving to work, she was reportedly flagged down by two men in police uniform, and suspecting nothing, the car stopped. Her driver and unarmed guard were pulled out and pistol whipped by gunmen who appeared.

Margaret demanded they stop the beating and said she would go with them.

Poignant demonstration

Her last act before kidnap and this terrible silence was, as always, to defend Iraqis.The last project Care completed at Margaret’s instigation, was a rehabilitation unit for patients with spinal injuries.

In a poignant demonstration, those patients that could, painstakingly wheeled themselves into the street, held up banners pleading for her release, in support of an honorary Iraqi and Iraq’s quiet, unassuming, determined best friend.

Baghdad rally for Hassan release, the BBC, 25/10/2004.

Around 200 supporters of kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan have gathered at her Baghdad office to urge her release.Many had been helped by Mrs Hassan or by Care International, the aid agency she worked for, BBC News 24 said.

Correspondent Claire Marshall said there was much support for Mrs Hassan amongst ordinary Iraqis, but that the rally was “completely unprecedented”.The Muslim Council in the city of Falluja – an insurgent stronghold – had also condemned the abduction, she said.

“Most people I speak to here are completely ashamed that somebody who’s lived in the country for 30 years and worked on behalf of the Iraqi people, obviously so clearly and so strongly, should be the target of a kidnapping.” Protesters carried pictures of Mrs Hassan and banners calling for her captors to set her free.

“We demand the release of this woman who took part and exerted painstaking efforts in reconstructing Ibn al-Qif Hospital for spinal diseases,” a wheelchair-bound protester told AP news agency.

Another, a teacher at an Iraqi school for the deaf, brought about 30 pupils to the demonstration because of Mrs Hassan’s efforts on behalf of hearing-impaired Iraqis.


On Sunday, Christian worshippers in Iraq prayed for the release of Mrs Hassan.Parish priest al-Khori Rufaeel, deputy head of the Syrian Catholic Community, condemned her abduction, saying it did not serve the country’s interests. He also stressed during his sermon in Baghdad that Mrs Hassan had spent years working for Iraq and its people.

Reuters news agency reported that insurgent commanders in Falluja said they were not holding Mrs Hassan.

‘Bad impression’

One of five guerrilla commanders, quoted by Reuters, said: “The resistance did not kidnap her because this would have left a bad impression of the resistance in the world.”Another said: “This woman works for a humanitarian organisation – she should not have been kidnapped.”

They said there was no evidence that Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group – which abducted and killed British hostage Kenneth Bigley – was involved. In a video released on Friday, Mrs Hassan – who has dual Iraqi and British citizenship and is in her 60s – was seen in tears begging Tony Blair to withdraw troops to save her life.

Holy month

Her Iraqi husband Tahseen Ali Hassan also made a televised appeal for her release.Addressing the captors, he said: “I beg you, in the name of Islam and Arabism, while we are in the holiest Islamic month, to return my wife.

“She considers Iraq her homeland. She loves Iraq and its people. “This is why she devoted herself and her life to help her people in Iraq.” Mrs Hassan was abducted in Baghdad on Tuesday and is director of Care International’s operations in Iraq.

She was seized from her car on the way to work by gunmen, one of whom was reported to have been wearing a police uniform. Many of the kidnappings in Iraq – which have included eight foreign women in the past six months – have taken place in or around Falluja.

Hassan ransom payment ‘blocked by Foreign Office’, Sunday Times 1/1/2006

A MILLIONAIRE who wanted to pay a ransom for the release of Margaret Hassan, the British aid worker kidnapped in Iraq and later murdered, was allegedly intimidated into dropping his offer, writes Maurice Chittenden.

Matthew Parris, the former Conservative MP, claims “frighteners” were put on the man and he was warned that his own family could be kidnapped next.Parris refused to elaborate on who made the threats, but the implication is that it involved British government officials.

The Foreign Office, which has a policy of not paying ransoms in any hostage situation, said yesterday that it was unaware of any ransom demand in the Hassan case.

Hassan, 59, who had British, Irish and Iraqi nationality, was abducted by insurgents in west Baghdad in October 2004, as she was being driven to work at the charity Care International.

Parris, writing in The Spectator last week, told how he helped a rich friend to try to pay a ransom for her release. He writes: “After the kidnapping, a very rich friend . . . told me that if a ransom was demanded, it could perhaps be raised.Could I find an intermediary? “I share any thinking person’s hesitation about ‘giving in’ to ransom demands, but my job here was to set out the possibilities. I am satisfied I did.”

He adds: “Whereupon – and before my friend could act – a scarily effective and totally behind-the-scenes operation was mounted to stop the plan. Tons of bricks came down privately on my generous friend’s head, and from many directions, and from on high – very high.

“Frighteners were applied in a pretty unscrupulous way. Terrified, my friend backed out. So might you if you were told that your own family might be targeted next. But no individual who has paid a ransom in Iraq has found their children threatened.”Yesterday, he refused to reveal his friend’s identity to The Sunday Times.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The allegations that we stamped on an initiative to pay a ransom in this case are utter nonsense. This false speculation causes a huge amount of distress to the victim’s family.”

Death of Humanity – Felicity Arbuthnot Palestinian Chronicle January 17, 2006.

For Iraq watchers, the daily carnage of liberation, the searing, wailing grief of the bereaved, bombed, bereft, haunt. Neighborhoods, evocative ancient homes reduced to rubble by the ‘liberators’, the surviving, bewildered, standing on shattered bricks, mortar, toys, belongings, liberated even from home’s secure warmth.

In the distorted horrors of today’s Iraq, many never make it home: disappeared, kidnapped, shot by the occupying forces for driving, walking, and playing, in familiar venues. Iraqi lives are the earth’s cheapest. ‘Government’ or occupying troops kill ‘insurgents’ (even if baby or toddler ‘insurgents’) and few questions are asked.

‘Insurgents’ are also blamed for the kidnappings and killings of independent aid workers and journalists – Iraqi and foreign – yet the growing list of their disappeared and dead, are those who were recording atrocities against the population by occupying troops and US imposed government’s militia.

Recently General Muntazar Al-Samarrai, who fled Iraq for Jordan last year, told Al Arabiya television that Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh had employed thousands of Badr Brigade militia, the now ‘disarmed’ fighters of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Random arrest, torture, crackdowns, interrogation without Court approval were rife, claimed Al-Samarrai.

He cited the Squad’s Headquarters as being in a bunker under the Ministry at Al Gardiyah, where one hundred and seventy prisoners were discovered, malnourished and showing signs of torture. Fifty-two blindfolded, dead were found in Baghdad’s Al-Iskan and Al-Huriya neighbourhoods. ‘I have no doubt countless others have been killed at the hands of Solagh’s men’, added Samarrai

Recent kidnappings of foreigners have occurred when approaching the Association of Muslim Scholars – who record circumstances pertaining to the dead and missing — or waiting to enter Mosques where officials also keep records. Sunni leaders have also been calling for investigation in to the death squads. The death toll of the Scholars themselves – indeed Iraq’s academics, professionals – is largely missing from the public domain. There is a deadly ‘Catch 22’ in the dangers of record keeping and in access to knowledge.

Iraq is unrecognisable from when foreigners and Iraqis, until the invasion, wandered late night streets, socializing, eating imaginative snacks costing pence, cooked on creative pavement cookers fashioned from scoured scrap, not fearing kidnap, ransom demands, death – gift of an illegal onslaught recently described by Martin Van Creuveld, Military History Professor at the Hebrew University, as: ‘ The most foolish war since Emperor Augustus sent his legions into Germany in 9 B.C., and lost them.’ ( 25th November 2005.)

The kidnappings and attendant horrors have been a surreal, horrific learning curve for Iraqis and those who know Iraq. Some governments have been careful, imaginative, quietly working behind the scenes for releases. Britain’s approach is unusual. When Ken Bigley was kidnapped, his brother Paul, desperately fighting for him, says his phone and computer were disconnected and he was visited by British authorities at his home in the Netherlands and accused of negotiating with terrorists.

When Care’s Director, Margaret Hassan was kidnapped, in October 2004. Lord Blair of Kut Al Amara, as dubbed by the Independent’s Robert Fisk (Kut: the scene of near Augustian decimation of the British on an earlier colonial misadventure) stood in Parliament and dealing also diplomacy’s death knell, said Britain now knew what kind of people it was dealing with, capturing a wonderful British woman.

Could the Prime Minister possibly correct his statement publicly? I asked the Head of Consular Protection for the Middle East, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I had known Margaret for some years and was fairly sure her passport was Irish, she was certainly Irish born and regarded herself as Irish.

Being British or American in Iraq, post invasion, could invite a death sentence.’We do not need advice from you ..’, he said : ‘ We are already trying to find out if we have the right woman.’ Life is seemingly cheap viewed from bunkered Whitehall.

The only option was to break rule one, go public, in a damage limitation exercise. On every possible media outlet, her background her passion for Iraq became central. Her home of thirty years, she stayed during two wars, thirteen years of bombings and embargo, her heartbreak at the plight of the people.

She travelled to the UK and spoke in Parliament and at the UN in New York in January 2003, warning of invasion’s consequences: ‘The Iraqi people are already living through a terrible emergency … they do not have the recourses to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action’, she said in a House of Commons briefing.

She could have stayed in the West, but returned to Iraq, stockpiled emergency medical requirements — and awaited the bombs. Was it a random, opportunist kidnapping, I prayed I was repeated on Arabic services. The Middle East minds people who care for them.

In my wake, producers received mysterious calls: I was a fantasist who had never met Margaret Hassan. I received one myself on a Sunday afternoon.Establishing who I was, the caller said he was head of government communications and, basically, would I shut the f … up about Margaret Hassan.

After Margaret’s death, Iraqi exiles in Manchester and Liverpool, appalled and ashamed, decided to establish initiatives for Iraq in her memory and asked if I would give a talk – on their country. My arrival was preceded by a ‘phone call from ‘Scotland Yard’ (no name of officer, number, extension etc.) advising the organizers against my speaking. The meetings went ahead.

Now, according The Sunday Times (1st January 2006) it transpires that Times columnist and former Conservative MP, Matthew Parris, was approached by ‘ … a very rich friend’, offering, that were: ‘..a ransom demanded, it could perhaps be raised.’ What followed was: ‘ … a scarily effective … behind-the-scenes operation to stop the plan … from on high – very high … Terrified my friend backed out. So might you if you were told your own family might be targeted next.’

The Foreign Office dismissed the claim as: ‘utter nonsense.’ Margaret Hassan fought for Iraq’s vulnerable under Saddam’s regime and would certainly not keep quiet regarding subsequent conditions and atrocities under that of the occupation – and frequently by them. And she had a voice in high places, as did many of Iraq’s disappeared.

The lionhearted Margaret’s terrified, pleading face looked out again from the Sunday Times and she again spoke for Iraqis: the terrorized, traumatized she mirrored. Iraqis had spoken back in their thousands and war maimed, limbless, children demonstrated on crutches outside her final project, a centre she had built for them. Her body has never been found.

Did someone, somewhere, look in a mirror and decide she was expendable, to illustrate the invasion’s historic disaster was necessary, to ‘democratise’ and ‘educate’ Iraq? And that in the New Iraq, unsilencable voices are anyway, inconvenient?

Robert Fisk in Canada recently joked of a minion saying to the Prime Minster: ‘Terrible news, Sir, Robert Fisk has been kidnapped in Iraq’ – and the Prime Minister replying: ‘Poor old Bob, ha, ha, ha.’

Jokes apart, there are more questions than answers regarding Iraq’s disappeared, say informed legal and human rights experts, than ever there were under Saddam.