In a one-woman battle for the victims of war, Marla Ruzicka, 28, won over Congress and the U.S. military, persuading the United States to free a precedent-setting $20 million for civilians it injured by mistake in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Ruzicka was killed Saturday on Baghdad's most dangerous road when a suicide bomber aiming for a U.S. convoy pulled up alongside her vehicle and detonated his explosives.
The blast also killed Ruzicka's Iraqi aide and driver, Faiz Ali Salim, 43, as they drove the road to a U.S. military base near the airport, where foreigners travel for flights out of the country and where Iraqis go to ask for help from the American forces. A security guard for the convoy was also killed.
"What she wanted to do was eminently sensible," Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who pushed through the compensation packages proposed by Ruzicka, said by telephone from the United States. "Unfortunately things that are eminently sensible sometimes get lost in bureaucracy without a champion. She was a champion I would follow anywhere."
Two years ago, she founded a Washington-based organization called Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.
"It's rare anybody in a lifetime can accomplish what she did, and she did it in just a couple years," Leahy said.
Ruzicka came from Lakeport, Calif. What started as anti-war fervor during college took her to Washington, to Afghanistan, and Iraq.
"The amazing thing is she came here as an anti-war activist, really," said Tim Rieser, an aide to Leahy who worked closely with Ruzicka on compensating Afghan and Iraq families. But she "quickly saw that wasn't the way to accomplish what she felt strongest about, which was to help innocent people who were wounded -- to get Congress, get the U.S. military to do that.
"In that sense, she accomplished what frankly nobody has ever accomplished," Rieser said. "Programs were created for Afghanistan and for Iraq to provide assistance to victims of U.S. military mistakes."
Ruzicka was a social force as well. She would lose her cell phone every other day, Rieser recalled, but she could get Bianca Jagger to a party in Kabul, Afghanistan, win millions in public and private funds for war victims, and change the way the U.S. handled war, colleagues said.