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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 her friends–and, quite possibly, the Iraqi insurgents–will be asking. This Anglo-Irish woman 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 United Nations 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 videotape (sent to Al Jazeera yesterday and apparently showing her execution). Her husband believes it 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 Margaret arguing with doctors and truck drivers over a lorry-load of medicines for Iraq’s children’s cancer wards in 1998. She smiled, cajoled and 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 today will 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 to be abducted and apparently murdered–we forget how many Iraqi women have already suffered this terrible fate; largely unreported in a world which counts dead American soldiers but ignores the 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 regiment from the Euphrates River.

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. There were no Qur’anic recitations. And when it percolated through to Fallujah and Ramadi that the mere act of kidnapping 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-Qaeda man whom the Americans falsely claimed was leading the Iraqi insurrection, but who has definitely been involved in the kidnappings and beheadings. Other abducted women 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. 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 the US and Interim Prime Minister Iyad Alawi’s tinpot army were fighting “evil” in Fallujah and the other Iraqi cities?

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?

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