Marla Ruzicka was a passionate humanitarian who worked on behalf of civilian war victims in Iraq.

In 2005, Marla was killed in Baghdad by a car bomb on her way back from visiting Iraqi families who lost relatives due to conflict. Though Marla’s life was tragically cut short, her memory and dedication to helping war victims in Iraq live on through the Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund, championed and funded through appropriations by the U.S. Congress. 

The Marla Fund 

The U.S. Government is committed to continuing Marla Ruzicka’s efforts to help innocent victims of the Iraq war. The Marla Fund assists Iraqi civilians, families, and communities who have been directly impacted as a result of U.S. military operations, Iraqi Security Force Operations, or terrorism in Iraq. Since 2005, the Marla Fund has helped to provide effective and direct assistance, including medical services and support, replacing damaged property, or helping victims establish businesses and livelihoods, such as grocery stores, bakeries, electronic shops, or farms. The Marla Fund has also contributed to rehabilitating public infrastructure, including schools, bridges, and health clinics that were damaged during the Iraq war. With a total of 5,770 projects completed to date, the Marla Fund has directly benefited 865,000 Iraqis. 

Areas of Assistance

Since 2005, USAID and the Department of State’s Bureau for Displacement, Refugees and Migration, through the Marla Fund, have been supporting Iraqi civilians and families who have been directly impacted by conflict through the areas of assistance below. 

Income Generation and Livelihoods: As most of Marla Fund eligible individuals are very poor (including many widows), support focuses on helping generate a sustainable income to support themselves and their families. Most recently, this includes boosting the social and economic recovery of victims of conflict to help them successfully reintegrate into their communities; promoting economic growth by supporting the development of local businesses and private sector networks; and enabling youth entrepreneurship by facilitating access to financing and incubation services to accelerate growth.

Rehabilitation of Private and Public Property: In many areas, the damage caused to buildings and homes during conflict has been extensive and costly to repair. Through the Marla Fund, communities have received the funds to carry out critical structural rehabilitation to rebuild safely reside in their places of origin. 

Medical & Psychosocial Assistance: The damage to homes and property, no matter how great, pales in comparison to the physical and mental harm and injury caused by conflict. The Marla Fund has provided medical and rehabilitative assistance, including support to individuals with sustained amputations in need of prosthetic devices. The fund also supported the establishment of Trauma Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Baghdad and Basra; provided legal and administrative support; women’s vocational training and employment services; mental health and psychosocial support; and provided emergency assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, notably survivors of ISIS captivity.

People with Disabilities: Disabled people in Iraq often receive little attention from the public health care system, suffer from a lack of mobility that creates burdens on families, and face social exclusion and discrimination because of their condition. The Marla Fund helped to rehabilitate a regional center for persons with disabilities and provided wheelchairs vocational skills training, and job placement services to 80,000 physically disabled individuals. 

The Marla Fund Today: Durable Communities and Economic Opportunities Project

Starting in 2020, the USAID-funded Durable Communities and Economic Opportunities (DCEO/Tahfeez) project administers the implementation of The Marla Fund, providing assistance to innocent victims of war and terrorism through two integrated approaches. 

First, DCEO’s Business Competitiveness and Job Creation Initiative is offering entrepreneurship, incubation, and small business acceleration to Marla Fund eligible individuals in order to support their efforts to establish, rebuild, and grow their businesses and acquire skills that contribute to secure and quality employment. 

Second, DCEO’s 100 Solutions component is helping victims of conflict recover by restoring or supporting the creation of new livelihood opportunities, which also promotes local economic growth. As part of its efforts, DCEO is providing one-on-one business support to restore or establish new businesses through technical training programs that prepare Marla Fund beneficiaries with digital skills required to enter the job market. To date, DCEO has provided one-on-one business support to over 150 Iraqi victims of conflict through the Marla Fund.

To learn more about DCEO/Tahfeez, click here.

Stories from the Marla Fund

Opening a bakery in Salah al Din governorate, a joint effort by 30 families, each with a civilian family member either injured or killed in the war.  After developing a sound business plan, the families worked with a USAID implementing partner to submit a viable funding application.  Today, the bakery is thriving, boosting the incomes of the families and generating employment opportunities in the community. 

Providing medical services for injured civilians, many of them amputees requiring prosthetics, secure medical care and rehabilitative services. One such case involved a young Iraqi girl who lost part of her right hand and suffered facial disfigurement. Through the Marla Fund, she was able to travel to the United States for reconstructive surgery. 

The Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund assisted a young boy in getting critical medical attention after he was accidentally shot in the head while trying to enter a busy Baghdad checkpoint. 

In one Baghdad community where the local health clinic was destroyed by violence, the Marla Fund rebuilt the health clinic and restocked it with much-needed medical supplies. Now, residents such as Qassin Mohammed, who is physically impaired and bound to a wheelchair, no longer have to travel long distances for regular healthcare needs. 

Assisting widows and families of war victims. Fadheela Ali Mohammed’s husband was accidentally shot and killed while driving pilgrims across the border from Iran to Iraq. Fadheela was left to raise her three children and her ailing mother alone, without proper employment or housing. “I found myself face-to-face with a great responsibility whose burden may crack solid mountains,” she said. In an effort to help Fadheela and her family recover from their loss and become self-sufficient, the Marla Fund built them a new house. The comfort of having reliable housing allowed Fadheela to gain confidence and focus her attention on starting her own business to gain an income. She turned a portion of her new house into a successful shop that sells household goods. “The project has unburdened me of my nervous worries,” Fadheela explained. 

Rebuilding the local economy, one business at a time. Al-Halawany is a manufacturer of sesame paste (rashi), Tahiniya sweets, and date molasses – all beloved mainstays of Iraqi cuisine. For 70 years, the Mosul-based company proudly produced its well-known products until the arrival of ISIS in 2014 shut everything down. The owner, a successful businessman, fled to Erbil with only the shirt on his back. Following Mosul’s liberation, he has slowly rebuilt the Al-Halawany’s products using Iraqi raw materials and locally-manufactured items, like plastic jars.

Through the Durable Communities and Economic Opportunities (DCEO) project, USAID is helping Al-Halawany rebuild and expand its production capacity to meet a growing demand. This assistance, as part of the Marla Fund, will not only support an Iraqi who lost nearly everything to ISIS, but it will also result in job creation and expanded economic activity in his factory and with the farmers and manufacturers who supply Al-Halawany’s products.

Fawzia was among the thousands of Yezidis who were displaced during ISIS's occupation. Today, she is a proud business owner with support from USAID and the Marla Fund.
Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund