Losing Marla: Eight Years Later

Eight years ago today, the world lost a humane and human voice for those who often have none—the civilian victims of conflicts. Marla Ruzicka, my friend, was killed in a car bomb on the airport road in Baghdad while a group of journalists waited for her at the Hamra Hotel. This is what I wrote a few days later, after the shock had set in:

BAGHDAD — Even now, I have a hard time believing that she’s gone.

Marla Ruzicka died Saturday, April 16 when a suicide car bomber blew up his car next to hers in an apparent attack on a nearby civilian convoy on Airport Road in Baghdad. She was 28.

Marla was a friend of mine here in Bagh­dad. She was a match­maker, a social hub and the heart of our journo-​tribe, both here and in Afghanistan, although she wasn’t a jour­nal­ist. She was known and loved — Sometimes through gritted teeth, admittedly — by the majority of Baghdad, it seems. Every­one knew Marla.

That’s because Marla made it her busi­ness to be known. She was tire­less and ubiq­ui­tous in her work, which was to get com­pen­sa­tion for Iraqi vic­tims of war from the U.S. mil­i­tary. She confronted, cajoled, flirted with and — more often than not — convinced generals, diplomats and politicians that Iraqi civilians were worthy of remembrance and that the U.S. had a responsibility to the families of those killed or injured by American munitions.

It was the height of the Iraq War, when the insurgency was growing in intensity by the day. Losing Marla was a shocking blow to all of us who cared about her and the civilian casualties her organization, CIVIC, worked for. Today, her successor organization, The Center for Civilians in Conflict, is active in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria—putting people on the ground to work with victims to bring their stories to the leaders and generals who often see the people in harm’s way as unfortunate “collateral damage.” They operate at great personal risk in some cases, and her organization offers a moral howl against the thoughtless killing and maiming of non-combatants. It is, of course, a tragic irony that Marla herself was such a victim, and it was a great loss for campaigners for human rights.

If you care at all about those killed, maimed, displaced or otherwise innocently affected by today’s conflicts, I urge you to donate to help the Center.

You aren’t forgotten, Marla.

Image courtesy of Chris Allbritton

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