Charity head kidnapped in Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 19-Oct-04 | Author: Fisnik Abrashi| Source: The Independent

Margaret Hassan, said to be a British-born Iraqi national, the director of CARE International's operation in Iraq is seen in this image made from video footage made on May 20, 2003.

The director of CARE International's operation in Iraq was kidnapped today in Baghdad, the organisation said.

Margaret Hassan, a British-born Iraqi national, was abducted at 7.30am, CARE International UK said in a statement released in London.

"As of now we are unaware of the motives for the abduction," the statement said. "As far as we know, Margaret is unharmed."

The statement said Hassan had been "providing humanitarian relief to the people of Iraq" for more than 25 years. She was born in Britain but became an Iraqi citizen, is married to an Iraqi and has lived in this country for 30 years.

"Needless to say, we are doing whatever we can to secure her release," the statement added. "But equally, it would be unhelpful for us to comment further at this time. Our overwhelming concern must be for Margaret's safety."

Shortly before the conflict in Iraq in 2003 Mrs Hassan warned MPs that the country could face a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of war.

She said the Iraqi people were already living through a terrible emergency and did not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.

In 2002 she visited the Birmingham HQ of the organisation Islamic Relief to talk about the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

She spoke about the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people, describing how a formerly prosperous nation had been systematically reduced to poverty.

Humanitarian organisations have not been spared from the violence sweeping Iraq. Last year, the Iraq headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross was damaged in a vehicle bomb, and many non-governmental organizations have withdraw foreign staff because of the bombings and kidnappings of foreigners.

Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 150 foreigners in their campaign to drive out coalition forces.

Last month, Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were kidnapped from the offices of their aid agency, "Un Ponte Per ..." ("A Bridge To...") in Baghdad. They were released in late September after three weeks in captivity.

The Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said Hassan had spent 30 years in Iraq working "for the benefit of its people" and that British diplomats in Baghdad were in touch with CARE International about the case.

"Meanwhile, our thoughts and prayers go out to her, her family and her colleagues at what is a very anxious time," he said.

British hostage Kenneth Bigley, who was working as a contractor in Iraq, was beheaded by his captors this month according to a video posted on an Islamist Web site, but his body has not been found.

CARE International has been active in Iraq since 1991 following the Gulf War and is the only international non-governmental organization to have maintained continuous programs in central and southern Iraq, according to the organization's Web site.

"Since 1991, CARE's programs have provided humanitarian assistance to over seven million people - one-third of the Iraqi population," the website said.

"CARE programs focus on rebuilding, repairing and maintaining water and sanitation systems and rebuilding and refurbishing hospitals and clinics. Iraq presents special problems for humanitarian relief."