Dec 25, 2006

Sweet Relief

Sweet Relief: The Life and Death of an Idealist in Iraq Sunday, December 24, 2006; BW14 An American aid worker named Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, were killed by a suicide bomber on April 16, 2005, as they drove along the road connecting Baghdad and its airport. It says much about the U.S. occupation of Iraq that this road is probably the most dangerous one in the world, but it says far more about Ruzicka and Salim that, despite the risks, they were driving along it to visit an injured Iraqi girl. Like many others around the world, I was lucky to be Ruzicka's friend. I was touched by her extraordinary generosity of spirit, which extended to everyone she met and even to those she had yet to meet -- like the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi noncombatants injured in some way by U.S. military action, for whom she lobbied incessantly. Those efforts have resulted in Congress's appropriating nearly $40 million for Afghan and Iraqi civilians who have suffered losses at the hands of the U.S. military. In Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $24.95), Jennifer Abrahamson has written a balanced, well-reported account of Ruzicka's extraordinary life, which took her from a comfortable childhood in northern California to the frontlines of Afghanistan and Iraq. Ruzicka initially came off like a blond surfer girl (she was much given to exclaiming "Dude!" and "You rock!"), but underneath the effervescent exterior was a tough-minded humanitarian advocate who had little tolerance for leftist anti-war demonstrators. Ruzicka understood that wars happen despite the demonstrations, and she wanted to do something concrete to alleviate the subsequent damage to human life. The organization Ruzicka founded -- CIVIC, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict -- continues to work to ease the suffering of innocents in wartime, but the world is a smaller place without her. She was 28 when she was killed. -- Peter Bergen Peter Bergen is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and a member of the board of CIVIC.