Patrick Cockburn: She was doing something the US war machine said was beyond its power

Share

Marla Ruzicka, who tried to find out how many Iraqis had been killed or injured by US forces and get compensation for survivors, was herself killed as she drove to Baghdad airport on Saturday.

Marla Ruzicka, who tried to find out how many Iraqis had been killed or injured by US forces and get compensation for survivors, was herself killed as she drove to Baghdad airport on Saturday.

Her vehicle was travelling on this highly dangerous road when a suicide bomber drove his car into a civilian convoy of which she was part. She was killed instantly in the explosion along with an unnamed French national and an Iraqi.

Ms Ruzicka, 27, born in California, founded the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, in 2003 to lobby for financial compensation for the thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq. She helped frightened and bewildered Iraqis, wounded or otherwise damaged by US actions, to extract small sums of money essential for their survival from the military bureaucracy.

Last year she successfully lobbied the US Senate for $10 million to meet such claims. US Senator Patrick Leahy said it was Ms Ruzicka's idea to make this fund part of last year's foreign aid bill to help Iraqis whose businesses had been destroyed by mistake or hit by US fire.

'She was constantly calling us up to say (lawmakers were) moving too slowly,' Senator Leahy said. 'Just from the force of her personality, we decided to take a chance on it.'

Ms Ruzicka was very thin, pretty and looked even younger than she was with large eyes and striking long blond hair, which she covered with a long black robe when she left the Hamra Hotel in the Jadriyah district of the capital where she lived.

She e-mailed me three weeks ago saying that she was returning to Baghdad for a week or so though she admitted that all her friends had advised her not to go. She said there was something she wanted to do there and added that she would be very careful. I sent a message saying that I understood how difficult it was for her to keep out of Baghdad given the work she was doing there. But I added that she should keep in mind that the situation had got a great deal worse than when she was last there a few months before. In fact she seems to have stayed on much longer than she had originally intended. I first met Marla Ruzicka in the Hamra about eighteen months ago. As I walked from my room to the coffee shop every morning I would see a blond head moving swiftly through the water of the swimming pool as she swam length after length.

I always found it extraordinary that this slight figure was trying to do something which the great American war machine claimed was beyond its power: Count the number of Iraqi civilians accidentally killed by American fire power. She was also trying to make sure that a tiny proportion of the billions being spent by the US on Iraq went to those who had seen their family's only bread winner killed or their small shop destroyed.

In an essay she wrote for Human Rights Watch in New York shortly before she died she explained why she thought it important to know the number of Iraqi casualties. She wrote: 'A number is important not only to quantify the cost of war, but to me each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realized, and who left behind a family.'

Much of her time was spent in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified enclave where the US administration was based, cultivating US officers who decided who would receive compensation. On good days she would receive a sympathetic hearing, but on others she would tell me with frustration that some official prepared to slice through the bureaucratic maze had been posted back to the US. She had campaigned for Afghan civilians in 2002 and had managed to persuade the Senate to provide a paltry $2.5 million for Afghans who suffered losses in US military operations.

She opposed the US war in Iraq. She was in Baghdad when it began with a women's anti-war group called Code Pink. But after the war she told me that it was all very well to be against it but she felt she had to do something practical to mitigate the suffering it had caused. She was upset that some other anti-war activists disapproved of her cultivation of the US military.

Physically intrepid, despite the obvious dangers of a lone American woman visiting some of the more dangerous parts of Baghdad, she would suffer periods of depression and self-doubt - particularly when she was lobbying for money in Washington. It also became obvious soon after I met her that she had almost no money herself, even while trying to extract millions of dollars from the US Senate. Of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have strutted through Iraq in the last two years - soldiers, bureaucrats, journalists and businessmen - she always seemed to me the most admirable.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The economics of the stock market is simple really: buy and hold

Ben Chu
Jeb Bush's campaign will emphasise both his conservative record as a former governor of Florida and his commitment to building a more inclusive Republican Party  

American democracy is up for sale, and it’s a warning to us all

Shirley Williams
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border