What price innocence in the anarchy of Iraq?

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 videotape, 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 morality left. What price is innocence in the anarchy we have brought to Iraq? The answer is simple: nothing.

I remember her arguing with doctors and truck drivers when a lorry load 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 Western politicians 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 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 –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 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?

Also see:
Killing Margaret Hassan as an Example

Is the Kidnapping of CARE’s Margaret Hassan a CIA-Mossad Op?

Hassan’s Alleged Death: a Close Encounter of the Intelligence Kind

Correspondent for the Independent, Robert Fisk is resident in the Middle East and comments on events unfolding there