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[casi-analysis] Margaret Hassan: A Personal Tale - by Felicity Arbuthnot

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As aid worker Margaret Hassan is held by kidnappers in Iraq, freelance journalist and long-time 
friend Felicity Arbuthnot 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!

Felicity Arbuthnot will be talking in Manchester, on Wednesday 3rd November at the Cross Street 
Chapel, Cross Street. For more information please see the article: "The International Day Against 
Depleted Uranium" on the website of The Iraq Solidarity Campaign (UK) )

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 converted to Islam, learned Arabic and took Iraqi citizenship.

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 

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."

On seeing Margaret, thin, stressed faces, broke into wide smiles, children ran and hugged her round 
the knees chanting: "Madam Margaret, Madam Margaret"

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.

It was Iraq's children who haunted her, she called the children of the embargo "the lost 

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 drove to work last Tuesday morning, 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.

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.

On Wednesday, 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.

Margaret's kidnap has led to Care pulling out of Iraq.

Risk taking is one thing, but moving about Iraq has now become for many a suicide mission.

Their stance is understandable, but it might be the only action that may make the redoubtable, 
extraordinary Margaret Hassan, put her head in her hands and weep.

"Felicity Arbuthnot has written and broadcast widely on Iraq and with Denis Halliday was senior 
researcher for John Pilger's Award winning documentary: Paying the Price - Killing the Children of 

 2004 BBC

The Iraq Solidarity Campaign

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