Kidnapped British Aid Worker: “Ask Mr. Blair to Take the Troops Out of Iraq, and Not to Bring Them Here to Baghdad”

StoryOctober 25, 2004
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Kidnapped British aid worker Margaret Hassan appealed to the British government to pull troops out of Iraq to save her life in footage broadcast across the world. We speak with Iraq activist, researcher and longtime friend of Hassan, Felicity Arbuthnot. [includes rush transcript]

In Iraq, the fate of kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan remains unknown, days after the Arabic satellite channel al Jazeera ran a video of her crying and pleading with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw British troops from Iraq. Hassan is the head of the Baghdad operations of the British charity CARE International. CARE is one of the world’s largest independent global relief and development organizations and has been active in Iraq since the Persian Gulf War.

While Margaret Hassan is of Irish ancestry, she is also an Iraqi citizen and has dedicated her life to addressing the many humanitarian catastrophes in the country. She has been married to an Iraqi man for 30 years and has worked and lived in Iraq for more than 2 decades.

Last week, her husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, held a press conference where he gave journalists more details of his wife’s abduction last Tuesday. He said that according to eye witnesses four armed men were involved in his wife”s kidnapping. They leapt out of two cars, he said, and forced everyone but Hassan from the car before speeding off with her inside.

Hassan’s husband also made a direct appeal to her captors, saying “She’s not involved in politics or religion. She is Iraqi. She is working for the humanitarian organization and I ask you to release her. She liked the people, she liked the country that’s why she is here for 30 years. Otherwise she could have left.” A day after Margaret Hassan’s husband made that appeal, al Jazeera aired this video of the kidnapped aid worker.

  • Margaret Hassan, footage aired by al Jazeera.
  • Felicity Arbuthnot, longtime Iraq activist and researcher who has spent extensive time in Iraq over the past decade. She also was the senior researcher on John Pilger’s award-winning documentary “Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq.” Her latest piece is called “Margaret Hassan: A Personal Tale.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A day after Margaret Hassan’s husband made the appeal, al Jazeera aired this video of Margaret Hassan.

MARGARET HASSAN: Please, please help me. Please help me. This might be my last hours. Please help me. Please, the British people, ask Mr. Blair to take the troops out of Iraq and not to bring them here to Baghdad. That’s why people like Mr. Bigley and myself are being caught, and maybe we will die. I will die like Mr. Bigley. Please, please, please, the British people, please help me.

AMY GOODMAN: Margaret Hassan, making her appeal, a video that was broadcast on al Jazeera. We go now to Britain to Felicity Arbuthnot, a long-time Iraq activist and researcher who has spent an extensive amount of time in Iraq over the last year. Also a senior researcher on John Pilger’s award-winning documentary, Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq. Her latest piece is called, “Margaret Hassan: A Personal Tale,” can you tell us about Margaret Hassan, Felicity?

FELICITY ARBUTHNOT: Yes, I certainly can. Good day to you from London. She’s a slender woman, one of those people with a very deceptive, quiet voice, and an iron will. Her love affair, really, was with Iraq, I think. I think I have said, you know, she fell in love twice: once with her husband, and then when he took her back to Iraq, she just fell in love with Iraq, which is, of course, you know, known through history as the cradle of civilization. She learned Arabic. She converted to Islam. She really has devoted her life to the people of Iraq ever since. It was — the most appalling thing for me is almost every time one talked to her over the grinding misery of the embargo years, you know, most draconian embargo, as you know, ever imposed by the United Nations where just about anything that you could think of, until very, very late on before the invasion, wasn’t available, so children had their childhood literally snatched away from them. She used to call them the lost generation. Just before — not long before she was kidnapped. She said to The Independent's Robert Fisk, “Now as a result of the embargo, we're going to have another lost generation,” but actually, it is she who is lost for the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the reaction right now in Britain? I know this weekend 1,000 people turned out in Dublin for a service for Margaret. What she is directly referring to is Bush’s request of Prime Minister Blair to send 600 British soldiers to Iraq, which did get approved last week. Can you talk about that and the reaction in Britain?

FELICITY ARBUTHNOT: Yes, I certainly can. I would like to put a caveat on this, because really, there is a setup here called consulate of protection under the foreign and commonwealth office. If I ever needed to be protected by them, I would send them an email saying just go away if I was in trouble. Actually, I, too, have an Irish passport, and I’m from Ireland, thank god. But within hours of Margaret being kidnapped on Tuesday, Tony Blair stood up in the House of Commons and he said, you know, we’re doing everything we can, and then he literally bad-mouthed the kidnappers. I mean, this is so stupid, it’s almost beyond belief. He and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, you know, have gone on like this. This is so unhelpful. Britain and America are in the Middle East, and particularly —- both the embargo and 1991 war, which was so disproportionately violent -—

AMY GOODMAN: Felicity, we’re going to have to leave it there, because the show has come to an end, but we’ll certainly continue to cover Margaret Hassan’s case. I want to thank you for being with us, Felicity Arbuthnot.

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