The victim founded Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An American aid worker who helped civilians caught in the crossfire of war was killed by a suicide car bomber on the dangerous road to the airport, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said Sunday.
Marla Ruzicka, 28, was on her way to the airport Saturday afternoon when the bomber targeted a U.S. convoy, said Adam Hobson, an embassy spokesman. Four people died and five were wounded in the explosion, Hobson said.
No other details were available, Hobson said, but Ruzicka's death was a reminder that many of the dead here are non-combatants. The organization Ruzicka founded three years ago, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, provided assistance to the families of people killed or injured during U.S. military campaigns both here and in Afghanistan.
"She had a tremendous sense of compassion and responsibility as a U.S. citizen," said Medea Benjamin of San Francisco, who once was Ruzicka's roommate. "I'm in shock."
Meanwhile, Iraqi politicians warned against "lighting the match" of sectarian conflict as they tried to sort out conflicting tales of Shiite hostages being held by Sunni insurgents in a town south of Baghdad.
U.S. military officials also reported Sunday the deaths of three soldiers who were killed late Saturday in an attack on a military base in Ramadi, west of the capital. The attackers fled into a nearby mosque and escaped. Seven other soldiers were injured.
Shiite politicians have charged that the Sunni insurgents are attempting to drive Shiites from Madain, an ethnically mixed town 20 miles south of the capital. They say the campaign began Thursday with the bombing of a mosque and continued Friday and Saturday with the seizing of hostages.
But other politicians said accounts of the hostage crisis had been fabricated to stoke sectarian tensions.
Iraqi security forces, dispatched to Madain late Saturday to quell tensions, have encircled the town, and some reports said they had freed 15 Shiite families and captured five hostage takers.
But a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said those accounts were untrue.
"It was more publicity than it is truth," said Sabah Kadhim. "It was an exaggeration. We didn't find any hostages. There was nothing."
Some residents said they feared government troops might cause more problems than they would solve.
"There weren't that big problems that the government needed to interfere," said Raad Dawood, 36, a clerk in Madain's housing ministry who said his family had left the town when government forces arrived.
Reports about the standoff between hostage-takers in Madain and Iraq's largely Shiite security forces dominated a meeting Sunday of Iraq's national assembly, which is still struggling to name a cabinet with an ethnic mix that will satisfy all of Iraq's major sects.
"There is an attempt to pull the country to a civil war," said Qassim Dawood, minister of state for national security affairs. "We have to admit that."
Some lawmakers painted a picture of Madain, the site of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, as a place under siege by Baathist stalwarts still loyal to Saddam Hussein and Sunni extremists. A member of the United Iraqi Alliance, the bloc of Shiite religious parties that holds a majority of seats in the assembly, said mines had been planted around the city to prevent Iraqi security forces from entering.
But others, including a representative of Shiite cleric and resistance leader Muqtada al-Sadr, said these reports of problem in Madain were unfounded.
The assembly members formed a five-person committee to respond to the reported crisis.