It’s been 11 years on Saturday since we lost Marla, our founder and, still, pole star for the Center for Civilians in Conflict. She was killed on April 16, 2005, when a suicide car bomber, driving next to her vehicle on the road between Baghdad and the international airport, detonated his bomb. She and her Iraqi colleague Faiz Ali Salim were killed, while the presumed target, a convoy she happened to be driving near, escaped. She was 28 years old.
Wrong place, wrong time, most would say. But for Marla, being in Iraq and Afghanistan as the U.S. mounted two wars that would eventually leave uncounted thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians dead, she was very much in the place she wanted and needed to be. For it was her self-appointed mission to help civilians harmed by conflict—for them to be compensated, to be recognized. She was tireless in her work, which was to get compensation for victims of war from the U.S. military. She confronted, cajoled, and — more often than not — convinced generals, diplomats, and politicians that civilians were worthy of remembrance and that the U.S. had a responsibility to the families of those killed or injured by American munitions.
She was my friend, and once, when I went with her to visit a Baghdad family that had lost a daughter in a U.S. bombing, I saw firsthand the effect she had on the people around her. The men hovered around for her protection and gazed at her adoringly. The women of the family swept her up in warm embraces, almost causing her to disappear in the flurry of abayas. The children sat at her feet or played with her blonde hair. She was beloved.
Violence and conflict continue around the world. Moreover, the need for Marla’s work—to make warring parties more responsible to civilians before, during, and after armed conflict—also continues. We here at the Center for Civilians in Conflict have a three-year growth plan laid out and intend to use our pragmatic approach to protect more civilians, as long as is necessary.
On this 11th anniversary of her tragic death, all our thoughts are with her family and the families of the victims of armed conflict.