- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

BAGHDAD — With a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Marla Ruzicka says she is determined to discover how many civilians died in the Iraq war.

Miss Ruzicka, founder and director of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), wants “the U.S. government [to] have a clear humanitarian-response policy as a result of their military actions.”

“It is a pretty apolitical objective,” she said in an interview. “You could be for or against the conflict in Iraq, but the issue is that civilians should not be harmed in a conflict.”

To bring about at least some level of accountability, she and a team of 150 Iraqi volunteers she has gathered have been conducting surveys in various parts of the country to assess the extent, details and number of civilian casualties.

She has set up several offices, from the southern city of Basra up north to the capital. She plans to soon to hire staff in northern Iraq.

Miss Ruzicka’s work is not purely academic research. It is required by U.S. law.

The final version of the $78.5 billion emergency-spending bill passed by Congress in April requires that the U.S. government “provide appropriate assistance” to Iraqi civilians for war losses.

Though the money is to come out of the $2.5 billion the Pentagon has set aside for Iraq reconstruction projects, it has not been decided how much of it will be spent for compensation.

Miss Ruzicka has been working with staff of Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who sponsored the resolution.

She said compensation will not be in cash payments, but assistance with matters such as health care bills and rebuilding schools and other damaged buildings.

Before any kind of compensation can begin, Miss Ruzicka and her team have to collect accurate data on how many Iraqi civilians were killed, where and under what circumstances.

Given the nature of the previous regime in Iraq, one tricky point might be to determine surely which victims were civilian and which military.

“It just requires a little bit of investigation. The hospitals keep a record of who was a civilian or who was a military [member]. Those are clearly indicated. At the time, I believe, the doctors kept accurate records. We can also go to the doctors and they will tell us the truth,” Miss Ruzicka said.

“We are going to the families. We are going to their homes. You speak to their neighbors. You get a sense for who they are. It is not too difficult. It is not hard, and the Pentagon should be doing it themselves as well.”

Last week the Associated Press reported it had documented 3,240 civilian deaths in a five-week investigation from one end of the country to the other. It called its count fragmentary and said the complete toll — if it is ever tallied — is sure to be significantly higher.

The Pentagon has yet to perform its own tally.

CIVIC has received a grant from USAID to carry on its work. USAID is the agency that will be responsible for disbursing the money allocated for civilian compensation and carrying out related support projects.

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