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CARE head pleads for her life
October 23, 2004 - 3:03PM
Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped director of CARE International in Iraq, appears in this image aired by the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera.
Kidnapped British aid worker Margaret Hassan pleaded for Tony Blair to save her life by scrapping a plan to redeploy British troops in Iraq and by pulling them out, as more than a dozen people died in clashes around the country.
''Please help me, please help me, these might be my last hours,'' a haggard and terrified Hassan said on a tape broadcast Friday by Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera.
''I will die like Mr (Kenneth) Bigley,'' the British hostage beheaded in Iraq earlier this month, she said.
''Ask Mr Blair to pull the (British) forces out of Iraq and not to bring them to Baghdad,'' she said, referring to Prime Minister Tony Blair who has agreed to Washington's request to redeploy troops from the south to US-controlled areas.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he would not meet kidnappers' demands for Hassan's release.
''Nobody is going to go for their demands ... and give in to their demands,'' he told Fox News.
''We have to remain very strong and adamant that we should bring the terrorists to justice,'' he said in an interview to be aired Saturday.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: ''The video of Margaret Hassan which has been released by her kidnappers is extremely distressing.''
Hassan, 59, was taken hostage on Tuesday as she drove to her office in western Baghdad.
She has spent nearly half her life in Iraq and is married to an Iraqi. She was a vocal opponent of the US-British invasion in March 2003.
The director of Iraq operations for CARE International has lived in Iraq for 30 years and is a naturalised Iraqi citizen.
The identity of her kidnappers is not known, although Dubai-based al-Arabiya television broadcast a video of her, apparently supplied by her captors.
''We hope she will be released,'' said Allawi. ''We are doing our best, we are praying for her and we are definitely doing our best to release her.
''She is a very fine lady, she is a very dignified lady and she has helped Iraq a lot and it is a very shameful thing that this happens in Iraq.''
Britain said on Thursday an 850-strong battle group would be posted outside Baghdad as part of the redeployment that will free up US troops for an expected assault on insurgents in the violence-plagued western city of Fallujah.
The international relief agency CARE, of which Hassan is local director, announced it was suspending operations in Iraq after her abduction.
On the ground, meanwhile, US and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents yesterday Buhruz, a town north-east of Baghdad near Baquba, after rebels attacked a US patrol with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, said a military spokesman.
He said nine insurgents were killed and three wounded in the fighting which lasted several hours.
A hospital in Baquba said it received three dead and eight wounded from the fighting.
Violence also flared in the northern city of Mosul when US and Iraqi forces tried to arrest what the military said were suspected insurgents forted up in the Thul-Nurain mosque.
Clashes wounded two US soldiers and one Iraqi. Another five soldiers were wounded when their convoy hit a roadside bomb as it was leaving the area.
Shortly after another car bomb went off nearby killing one Iraqi and wounding another.
In the rebel stronghold of Fallujah, US Marines fired heavy artillery on insurgents who attacked them from inside the Sunni Muslim city west of the capital, the military said.
An AFP correspondent said he heard loud explosions and saw smoke and fire rising from the city's Al-Shuhada neighbourhood, where US warplanes bombed a suspected weapons depot late on Thursday.
Hospitals said seven people were killed during the assault.
Determined to regain control of the no-go zone before the January polls, more than 1,000 joint forces have encircled the city for the past week.
Elsewhere, preliminary court martial proceedings began for a US prison guard accused of physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees in the Abu Ghraib jail scandal, while the murder trial of a second US soldier began yesterday.
Specialist Charles Graner had posed in a notorious photograph with naked Iraqi detainees stacked in a pyramid last autumn.
The preliminary hearing saw the judge, Colonel James Pohl, reject two requests from the defence and schedule the next court date for December 3 and the actual trial for January 7.
Pohl struck down a request to grant immunity to witnesses.
The hearing followed Thursday's sentencing of the most senior soldier charged so far in the case, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, to eight years in prison. Graner's lawyer painted a portrait of a low-ranking soldier simply following orders from top brass.
Why my friend Margaret Hassan must be freed
October 23, 2004/the AGE
I had the good fortune to work with Margaret Hassan when I was non-government organisation liaison officer for the UN humanitarian co-ordinator, until the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003. Margaret is intelligent, professional and empathetic, and understands the innumerable tragedies the peoples of the Middle East have suffered. Her capture is a serious blow to all of us who have dedicated our lives to working with Arabs and Muslims to confront ongoing atrocities and injustices and secure human rights and responsibilities in the region.
If the capture is an attempt to make a scapegoat of neo-colonial, Christian-Zionist, and/or Western imperialist agendas personified, the resistance has the wrong person. Margaret's vocal opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq revealed a heart and mind that knew the chaos and devastation such belligerence would generate. She consistently criticised the humanitarian and reconstruction ineptitude of the US and British occupying powers and called on them to uphold their responsibilities in accordance with international humanitarian law. And when we all left, Margaret remained with her husband to bravely pick up the pieces.
Every day Iraq becomes more dangerous. The disbanding of the Iraqi army and other such blunders by the "coalition of the willing" has unleashed a post-Soviet-style disintegration of law and order. Every day, tens of Iraqis are kidnapped for ransom. Margaret might still be held by those at the bottom of the hostage-taking food chain - common criminals attempting to sell on their catch to the politically savvy cohorts of al-Zarqawi, bin Laden and the like. If so, let us hope the ransom is paid and Margaret is freed.
If Margaret has been sold on, let us hope the Islamists have the political savoir-faire to appreciate that doing anything but releasing her is unstrategic. Indeed, when a Jihadi resorts to such desperate measures as abducting an advocate of Arab and Muslim self-determination he greatly diminishes the cause among even his most ardent supporters.
It is time for all mujahideen to ask: What is our endgame? If it is independence from the yoke of US foreign policy and the freedom to enjoy human rights and responsibilities, then capturing Margaret is not part of the design. Margaret is not the enemy
Kirsten Zaat, Richmond, Victoria, Australia.