www.globalresearch.ca Centre for Research on Globalisation Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation
The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/IRI504A.html
Marla Ruzicka, who has been killed by a car bomber near Baghdad airport, was an extraordinary, one-person American aid agency, who worked tirelessly to get compensation for victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Though only 28 when she died, she was an unusual mixture of charm, ebullience, adventure-seeking and tireless dedication to helping ordinary people whose lives had been shattered.
She lobbied journalists and diplomats with equal persistence, but loved nothing better than to sit with wretched families after the spotlight had moved on, record every detail of their stories, go out and campaign for official apologies and compensation - and then stay in touch to keep them informed.
On the day she died, on Iraq's most dangerous road, she had been out talking to bereaved families. Her driver/translator, Faiz Al Salaam, who also died, worked with her for almost two years. An unemployed pilot when she hired him, he had started flying for Iraq Air again, and, as the father of a two-month-old daughter, wanted to give up the danger of his work with Marla. But she was due to leave Baghdad this week, and he stayed on out of loyalty.
They were driving, by chance, near a convoy of foreign contractors' vehicles, which were the bomber's target. Dressed in a long black abbaya , the head-to-toe covering which most western women now wear in Baghdad as protection, Marla used an ordinary car.
Looking like a teenager - and with her bubbly enthusiasm and girlish shriek of a laugh - she was not always taken seriously when she arrived in her first big war zone, Afghanistan, just after the Taliban were ousted in December 2001. Unlike most aid workers, she cultivated journalists and wanted to know where the next party was.
But her commitment to getting help for the forgotten was ferocious. One of her first actions in Kabul was to help organise a visit by American women who had lost family members on 9/11. They wanted to meet Afghan families whose homes had been destroyed by American bombs.
Marla campaigned relentlessly by telephone and e-mail, as well as by personal lobbying, and persuaded US Senator Patrick Leahy to put an amendment into a foreign aid bill to give $2.5 million for Afghan victims. It was not described as compensation, since the US did not wish to take formal responsibility, but Marla visited families all over Afghanistan, drew up lists of names and helped to ensure that the money was distributed to the right people.
In Afghanistan, she was working for Global Exchange, a non-governmental organisation based in San Francisco. After the Iraq war she created her own charity, Civic (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict). One aim was to keep a running account of the number of civilian deaths, but it quickly became an effort to help individuals.
In an essay sent to Human Rights Watch shortly before she died, Marla wrote: "A number is important not only to quantify the cost of the war, but, to me, each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realised, and who left behind a family."
She continued her lobbying and got $20 million for victims in Iraq. She also developed contacts in the US military, trying to get them to describe otherwise unreported incidents, and take responsibility. In a typical entry from her journal, published on AlterNet on November 6th, 2003, she reported: "On October 24, former teacher Mohammad Kadhum Mansoor, 59, and his wife, Hamdia Radhi Kadhum, 45, were travelling with their three daughters - Beraa, 21, Fatima, 8, and Ayat, 5 - when they were tragically run over by an American tank.
"A grenade was thrown at the tank, causing it to lose control and veer on to the highway, over the family's small Volkswagen. Mohammad and Hamdia were killed instantly, orphaning the three girls in the back seat. The girls survived, but with broken and fractured bodies. We are not sure of Ayat's fate; her backbone is broken.
"Civic staff member Faiz Al Salaam monitors the girls' condition each day. Nobody in the military or the US army has visited them, nor has anyone offered to help this very poor family."
Born in the small town of Lakeport, California, Marla became politically active at the age of 15, when she was suspended from high school for leading a protest against the first Gulf war. While at Long Island University she travelled extensively, visiting Cuba, Guatemala, southern Africa and the West Bank. She was already working as a volunteer for Global Exchange.
Despite her exuberant exterior, she was not always happy, and her activism was sometimes both an obsession and a therapy. For exercise in Baghdad, she regularly stormed up and down the pool at the al Hamra Hotel, the headquarters of the newspapers which preferred not to have large, guarded villas. She rarely relaxed.
Last New Year's Eve, she e-mailed friends: "2005 is going to rock for you all and me, too . . . I write to you from the Himalayan mountains, where I am on a seven-day trek. Wow, is my mind clear, and I have many goals for 2005. After my trek, I'll work on a campaign to protect Nepalese activists - there have been over 3,000 disappearances here - more than Colombia. Then I am off to Afghanistan to check on the families who lost loved ones in Operation Enduring Freedom."
Marla had also been planning to spend more time fundraising in the US. She had an initial grant from George Soros's Open Society Institute, but wanted to develop more sources.
After the Iraq election in January, she decided to make another trip to Baghdad. Medea Benjamin, her original mentor at Global Exchange, tried to dissuade her because of the increased danger. "I thought it would be better to wait for a while and see if the situation got better than to put her life at risk," she told the Los Angeles Times.
"She was determined to go because the people she worked with didn't have the luxury not to be at risk."
Marla Ruzicka: born December 31st, 1976; died April 16th, 2005
Email this article to a friend
To become a Member of Global Research
The Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) at www.globalresearch.ca grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles in their entirety, or any portions thereof, on community internet sites, as long as the text & title are not modified. The source must be acknowledged and an active URL hyperlink address of the original CRG article must be indicated. The author's copyright note must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: [email protected]
www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of "fair use" in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than "fair use" you must request permission from the copyright owner.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization.
To express your opinion on this article, join the discussion at Global Research's News and Discussion Forum
For media inquiries: [email protected]
© Copyright belongs to the author 2005.
return to home page