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The Tragedy of Margaret Hassan

An excerpt from the article:
"Although aware of her sensitive position, Margaret never hesitated to tell it like it is – which usually implied harsh criticism of US/UK policy in the region. What is horrifically ironic about her current predicament is that it is precisely that policy regime which has led her to this life-threatening situation. Margaret did not participate in Blair’s war to turn a profit, Blair’s war came to her. For this reason, Mr. Blair is ethically obliged to do whatever his power allows to obtain her freedom...."

Editor note: Margaret Hassan was taken captive in Iraq October 19. Nabil Al-Tikriti is an Assistant Professor of History at the Unversity of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg. He can be reached at naltikriti[at]yahoo.com Please also note his blog sites linked at the end of the op-ed. -j
I first met Margaret Hassan in 1991 while a young relief administrator with Catholic Relief Services in Baghdad. At the time, Margaret had just been hired as an office assistant for CARE Australia. Although her initial job description was relatively humble, it quickly became apparent to all who worked with her that Margaret was an invaluable link between us international aid workers and the wider Iraqi society just beyond our white vehicles, Iraqi government meetings, UN press conferences, and sheltered lives within either NGO compounds or five-star hotels.

We did not know much about Margaret’s personal life, but we did know that she had lived in Baghdad for most or all of her adult life since meeting and marrying her Iraqi husband, Tahsin Ali Hassan. She had “gone native,? like hundreds of other British females resident in the formerly UK-ruled territories of Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, and Israel/Palestine. As our rumor mill had it, as a younger woman in the 1970’s Margaret had gained local fame for reading the English news on Iraqi television. Although this rumor was never confirmed, I wonder now at the bitter irony of her now gaining fame through a very different sort of broadcast appearance.

When our “Iraq mafia? of international relief workers moved on to Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and other societies on the frontlines of globalization, Margaret stayed on. I saw Margaret once more while visiting relatives in 2000 and then again in 2003 while researching the effects of the US/UK invasion on Iraq’s manuscript collections. Although several years had passed, Margaret still remembered me, made time for tea and my endless queries, and graciously shared whatever information she had on Iraq under sanctions or occupation.

In the intervening years Margaret’s stature had grown tremendously. When the Government of Iraq made it exceedingly difficult for foreign aid workers to stay on in the summer of 1992, she was the natural choice to take over as country director of CARE’s relief program. Unlike the vast majority of international NGOs active in Iraq following the earlier Gulf War, CARE under Margaret Hassan continued to provide assistance throughout the 1990s. This was long after support of such efforts had waned in such donor countries as the US and UK, which were simultaneously extending and deepening Iraq’s hardship through a
malicious UN sanctions regime.

As Margaret has long worked for Iraq’s vulnerable populations, she remained a largely unguarded soft target in a society increasingly bereft of such soft targets. She trusted, plausibly, that her years of advocacy would protect her from the sort of tragedy suffered by others who had come to Iraq for personal gain, professional advancement, or institutional requisites. It is a shame that certain unknown radical elements have targeted such a vulnerable – and ultimately sympathetic – individual. It would be an abomination if any physical harm came to such an innocent. To these extremists, I can only urge them to reconsider their target acquisition. Give this one back, unharmed.

Although aware of her sensitive position, Margaret never hesitated to tell it like it is – which usually implied harsh criticism of US/UK policy in the region.

What is horrifically ironic about her current predicament is that it is precisely that policy regime which has led her to this life-threatening situation. Margaret did not participate in Blair’s war to turn a profit, Blair’s war came to her. For this reason, Mr. Blair is ethically obliged to do whatever his power allows to obtain her freedom. So far the kidnappers have only demanded that Mr. Blair decline to send UK troops to reinforce US troops south of Baghdad. Considering that the purpose of this reinforcement is to free up US troops for a
long-anticipated assault on Falluja – a town which has in the past year already lost over 1000 civilians in similar assaults, Mr. Blair should not have accepted this request anyway. Like millions of others who have protested against the US/UK assault on Iraqi society, I only wish that Mr. Blair would seriously reconsider the wisdom and humanity of enabling the pending US assault on Falluja. Innocents like Kenneth Bigley, Margaret Hassan, and tens of thousands of Iraqis who have found their lives imperilled by the chaos following the collapse of the Iraqi state deserve
better.
 
 


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