Looking at photographs on various Web sites of the smiling 28-year-old California blonde with more than a hint of impish good humor in her eyes, it is difficult to believe such a person could be dead.
But Marla Ruzicka, who had spent much of her time in Iraq since 2003 working on behalf of Iraqi civilians harmed by the war, was killed by a suicide bomber on the Baghdad airport road on Saturday.
Wars and conflicts all too often take the good with the bad, those who are trying to help as well as those who have declared themselves enemies of some group of combatants. To compound the irony, Ruzicka had devoted much of her young life to trying to bring attention and help to the most innocent victims in the current Iraqi conflict: Iraqi civilians and the families of those injured or killed, accidentally or otherwise — people who might otherwise be dismissed as “collateral damage.”
Ruzicka undoubtedly began her work with something of a political agenda. She walked into the offices of Global Exchange, a leftist activist outfit in San Francisco, when she was 15, and got the organization to give a presentation at her school in Lakeport, some three hours north of San Francisco.
She worked with Global Exchange for several years, and in 2002 went to Afghanistan shortly after the U.S.-led invasion. Returning to the United States, she began working to get the U.S. government to compensate innocent victims of the Afghanistan conflict.
In 2003 she founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict:
She wanted to call attention to the plight of Afghan and Iraqi civilians. She lobbied well enough to get a $2.5 million appropriation to help those displaced by the war in Afghanistan, and later $10 million to rebuild homes and schools and provide medical assistance in Iraq.
Some of her leftist friends looked askance when she went out of her way to work with U.S. military leaders in Iraq. But she discovered that local commanders often had the authority, the compassion and the resources to provide immediate help to Iraqi civilians, and she became more interested in finding ways to get them help than in where it came from.
“She had such an infectious warmth,” said Michael O’Heaney, a former Global Exchange employee, “yet at the same time she was utterly serious and dedicated.”
Operating on a shoestring, she sometimes found that the best way to get journalists, military people, non-governmental organization workers and others together was to throw a party, and make sure the fun included some serious conversation about how to help those displaced by the war and its aftermath.
May such work continue.