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Remembering the Life of Marla Ruzicka

  • Ernest Leong

Marla Ruzicka went to Iraq with one clear purpose -- to help Iraqis who are victims of the ongoing battle with insurgents. Tragically, she too was a casualty, killed in a suicide bombing. But those whose lives she touched say she will never be forgotten.

This photo with an Iraqi child was taken only hours before Ms. Ruzicka's untimely death. The little girl was just three-months-old when she lost her entire family in a rocket attack.

It was for this child, and many other Iraqis victimized by the ongoing violence, that Marla founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC.

Because the Pentagon doesn't keep track of civilian casualties, Marla visited homes and hospitals in Iraq, trying to get an accurate count and description of civilians killed or wounded.

Her work took her to the most dangerous areas. Those who knew Marla feared for her life; she frequently drove around Iraq without any bodyguards. Sadly, their worst fears came true recently, when Marla was killed in a suicide bombing near Baghdad.

CIVIC U.S. Campaign Manager April Pedersen remembers her friend from college.

"She [Marla] thought it was her responsibility. She really -- I mean, from a very early age, she thought the world's problems were her responsibilities," explains Ms. Pedersen.

Marla went to Afghanistan in 2002, to assist the families of civilians killed or wounded in attacks. She spoke about the importance of her work.

"Numbers [of civilians killed] are important to look at the overall results of the [coalition's] campaign. But whether it's five people or 500 people, still each person is a case and each person is a story and each person is a need," said Marla.

Armed with this information, Marla lobbied congressmen, Army generals -- anyone who could help.

With her outgoing personality and easygoing style, Marla helped win more than $22-million in aid for civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her death has left a void in many people's lives, including those at CIVIC. Ms. Pedersen said they will continue Marla's work.

"We're going to work hard, as she did, to get a true number and an accurate number of the civilian casualties in Iraq," says April Pedersen.

Marla Ruzicka, who died on her way to visit an injured Iraqi child, now joins those numbers she kept so carefully.