On April 16, 2005, a hero to many Iraqis and Americans alike lost her life on Airport Road. The death of Marla Ruzicka by suicide bomb marked a particularly violent time in the Iraq War.
Five years later, what's changed for the civilian war victims for whom she risked her life?
NPR Baghdad Bureau chief Quil Lawrence, a good friend of Marla's who's been covering Iraq since she was there--reflected today:
Five years ago Iraqi civilians lived in a crossfire of fears. American troops saw danger around every corner and opened fire when in doubt. Mass-murdering suicide bombers killed unarmed civilians much more than they ever succeeded in harming Americans. Signs of the sectarian civil war were plain a year before anyone called it by that name. That was the Iraq that my dear Marla returned to again and again, as fragile as she was. She helped one victim at a time to get a little money for their loss, but mostly to get a measure of respect and dignity. She let them know their loss was not theirs alone.
The violence was so bad in 2005, sons were tattooing their names and addresses on themselves so their mothers could identify them in the morgues (assuming their bodies made it to a morgue). Now, widowed mothers struggle to feed the children they have left.
Iraq is a "worrying" humanitarian situation according to the Red Cross. Some of Iraqi's woes are caused by nature, like the worst drought in a decade. But most are caused by humans, such as poor or nonexistent health care, lack of clean water for nearly half of the population, severe injuries left untreated, and displacement on a staggering scale--an estimated 2.8 million Iraqis are living somewhere in Iraq that is not their home. They have little security, little help and often little hope. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country entirely.
And while the security situation is said to be improving, violence remains widespread, inflicted on the local population largely by militant bombings. Take a look at just one week in 2009: On January 25th, three car bombs killed 38 people and injured 74. On January 26th, a car bomb killed 17 people and wounded 80. On February 1st, a suicide bomber killed 41 people and wounded 100. On 3 February, another suicide bombing killed at least 20 people. Now well into 2010, militants continue to take aim at the civilian population, trying to disrupt the political landscape through fear and chaos.
The survivors need safety and a safety net not yet there.
Marla's friends say that she looked on the bright side. So it's gratifying to know that the program Marla inspired to help war victims is still going strong. The Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund has for over seven years been helping civilian war victims get back on their feet. It received another $15 million from the U.S. Congress this year, marking a commitment by this government to not walk away from suffering and loss, even as its troops pull out of the country.
That's the kind of commitment and compassion Marla worked for.
Today, let's remember Marla, and let's not forget about Iraq.
Follow Sarah Holewinski on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SarahAtCivic