Thursday, April 21, 2005

Saints in Iraq

The recent slaying of Marla Ruzicka in Iraq is disturbingly reminiscent of that of another young American woman -- diminutive and blonde and idealistic --whose all-consuming desire to help people in that troubled land led to her own untimely death.

A California native, Ruzicka joins Oklahoma-born Fern Holland in the pantheon of loving, genuinely committed civilians who made the ultimate sacrifice amid the killing zones that is post-war Iraq. In mid-April, the 28-year-old Ruzicka, along with her driver-translator and another guard, died in a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad.

The Los Angeles Times' Doug Smith writes:

"Her death stunned a wide circle of diplomats, government officials, soldiers, journalists and ordinary people from Baghdad to Kabul, Afghanistan.'God bless her pure soul, she was trying to help us,' said Haj Natheer Bashir, the brother-in-law of an Iraqi teenager Ruzicka was trying to evacuate to the San Francisco Bay area for surgery. 'She was just a kind lady.'

"A former Marine who now works for the State Department in Baghdad, said: 'She was a remarkable woman and a kind person, and she affected everyone she came in contact with.'

"A few days after Baghdad fell in April 2003, Ruzicka showed up in Iraq. She began building a volunteer network to document civilian casualties. The records they compiled on more than 2,000 dead provided an early accounting of the war's toll. Although the currently accepted figure, based largely on news accounts, is between 17,000 and 20,000, Ruzicka's stands out because of the detail it contains, said Newsweek reporter Owen Matthews, a friend of Ruzicka.

"Several friends said Ruzicka experienced steep emotional swings and had a troubled side to her life that drove her. 'This was her therapy,' said Matthews. As she struggled to build her own organization, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, Ruzicka began shuttling between Baghdad, an office in New York and her parents' home in the Bay area. She also traveled to Washington to lobby for assistance for Iraqi war victims. Tim Rieser, an aide to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., credited Ruzicka with inspiring an appropriation of $17.5 million for aid to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Her death recalls that of another diminutive blonde woman who died for her commitment to others. Last year, 33-year-old Oklahoma attorney Fern Holland was assassinated in Iraq, where she had helped craft that country's interim constitution guaranteeing representation for women. Such work was nothing new for Fern, a former Peace Corps volunteer and American Refugee Committee investigator who had spent much of her too-short life helping people living in oppressive regimes.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma Today magazine posthumously named Fern Holland 2004's Oklahoman of the Year.


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