What price innocence in the anarchy of Iraq?

Video shows murder of aid worker Margaret Hassan, says her family

By Robert Fisk

The Independent

17 November 2004

Who killed Margaret Hassan? After the grief, the astonishment, heartbreak, anger and fury over the apparent murder of such a good and saintly woman, that is the question that her friends - and, quite possibly, the Iraqi insurgents - will be asking. This Anglo-Irish lady held an Iraqi passport. She had lived in Iraq for 30 years, she had dedicated her life to the welfare of Iraqis in need. She hated the UN sanctions and opposed the Anglo-American invasion. So who killed Margaret Hassan?

Of course, those of us who knew her will reflect on the appalling implications of the video tape which, so her husband believes, is evidence of her death. If Margaret Hassan can be kidnapped and murdered, how much further can we fall into the Iraqi pit? There are no barriers, no frontiers of immorality left. What price is innocence now worth in the anarchy that we have brought to Iraq? The answer is simple: nothing.

I remember her arguing with doctors and truck drivers when a lorryload of medicines arrived for children's cancer wards - courtesy of Independent readers - in 1998. She smiled, cajoled, pleaded to get these leukaemia drugs to Basra and Mosul. She would not have wished to be called an angel - Margaret didn't like clichés. Even now I want to write "doesn't like clichés"; are we really permitted to say that she is dead? For the bureaucrats and the Western leaders who will today express their outrage and sorrow at her reported death, she had nothing but scorn.

Yes, she knew the risks. Margaret Hassan was well aware that many Iraqi women had been kidnapped, raped, ransomed or murdered by the Baghdad mafia. Because she is a Western woman - the first Western woman to be abducted and apparently murdered - we forget how many Iraqi women have already suffered this terrible fate. They go largely unreported in a world which counts dead American soldiers, but ignores fatalities among those with darker skins and browner eyes and a different religion, whom we claimed to have liberated.

And now let's remember the other, earlier videos. Margaret Hassan crying, Margaret Hassan fainting, Margaret Hassan having water thrown over her face to revive her, Margaret Hassan crying again, pleading for the withdrawal of the Black Watch from the Euphrates river basin. In the background of these appalling pictures, there were none of the usual Islamic banners. There were none of the usual armed and hooded men. No Koranic recitations.

And when it percolated through to Fallujah and Ramadi that the mere act of kidnapping Margaret Hassan was close to heresy, the combined resistance groups of Fallujah - and the message genuinely came from them - demanded her release. So, incredibly, did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qa'ida man whom the Americans falsely claimed to be leading the Iraqi insurrection - but who has very definitely been involved in kidnapping and beheading foreigners.

Other abducted women - the two Italian aid workers, for example - were freed when their captors recognised their innocence. But not Margaret Hassan, even though she spoke fluent Arabic and could explain her work to her captors in their own language.

There was one mysterious video that floated to the surface this year, a group of armed men promising to seize Zarqawi, claiming he was anti-Iraqi, politely referring to the occupation armies as "the coalition forces''. This was quickly nicknamed the "Allawi tape": after the US-appointed, ex-CIA agent and ex-Baathist who holds the title of "interim Prime Minister" in Iraq, the same Allawi who fatuously claimed there were no civilian deaths in Fallujah.

So, if anyone doubted the murderous nature of the insurgents, what better way to prove their viciousness than to produce evidence of Margaret Hassan's murder? What more ruthless way could there be of demonstrating to the world that America and Allawi's tinpot army were fighting "evil" in Fallujah and the other Iraqi cities that are now controlled by Washington's enemies.

Even in the topsy-turvy world of Iraq, nobody is suggesting that people associated with the government of Mr Allawi had a hand in Margaret Hassan's death. Iraq, after all, is awash with up to 20 insurgent groups but also with rival gangs of criminals seeking to extort money from hostage-taking.

But still the question has to be answered: who killed Margaret Hassan?

'Our hearts are broken... her suffering has ended'

Statement released by Michael, Deirdre, Geraldine and Kathryn Fitzsimons, brothers and sisters of Margaret Hassan, last night

"Our hearts are broken. We have kept hoping for as long as we could, but we now have to accept that Margaret has probably gone and at last her suffering has ended.

"Our prayers and thoughts are with our dear brother-in-law Tahseen. Margaret was a friend of the Arab world, to people of all religions. Her love of the Arab people started in the 1960s when she worked in Palestinian camps, living with the poorest of the poor and supporting the refugees.

"For the past 30 years, Margaret worked tirelessly for the Iraqi people.

"Margaret had only goodwill towards everyone. She had no prejudice against any creed. She dedicated her whole life to working for the poor and vulnerable, helping those who had no one else.

"Those who are guilty of this atrocious act, and those who support them, have no excuses.

"Nobody can justify this. Margaret was against sanctions and the war.

"To commit such a crime against anyone is unforgivable.

"But we cannot believe how anybody could do this to our kind, compassionate sister.

"The gap she leaves will never be filled."