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The Dangers of Unstable People


In his April 21 radio address to the nation (inspired by the violence at Virginia Tech earlier in the week) George Bush announced that he has directed federal officials to conduct a national inquiry into how to prevent violence by dangerously unstable people. It is a worthy endeavor.

The news from Darfur (as well as in this country from Virginia Tech) demonstrates how much damage can be inflicted on a country by dangerously unstable people. Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, has permitted a situation to flourish in Darfur that, according to United Nations reports, has resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people and the displacement of more than 2,000,000 since the conflict began in 2003. President Bashir has repeatedly assured the international community that he will permit U.N. peacekeepers into the country only to change his mind and permit the suffering to continue. On April 16 he let it be known that he would immediately allow U.N. attack helicopters and 3,000 international peacekeepers into Darfur to protect civilians. The final stage of the U.N. plan if permitted to be fully implemented will result in the creation of a 21,000 person joint African Union-United Nations force that would replace the extant African Union force now in place.

The deaths of more than 200,000 people in the 4 years since the war began means that more than 100 people a day have been killed. That is a very large number of people killed. Two million refugees created since the war began is a large number of new refugees. Darfur is not, however, the only country in the world that can boast such statistics. Iraq is another.

Since the terrible trio, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, decided to invade Iraq in 2003 (at about the same time the Darfur conflict began), that country has found it can point to similar and in some cases even more distressing statistics. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) up to 50,000 Iraqis leave their homes monthly and one-fifth of those leave the country. According to Refugees International, 4,000,000 Iraqis (more than twice the number in Darfur) are now displaced and 1.9 million of these have gone to neighboring countries. According to Syrian officials, approximately 1.5 million Iraqi refugees have settled in that country. The United Nations estimates that Jordan has received 750,000. Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, the Gulf States and Iran have all accepted Iraqis fleeing their homeland. It is not only in the number of refugees that Iraq resembles Darfur. The number of daily deaths offers a similar comparison.

According to new health statistics released on April 17 by the World Health Organization’s Health Action in Crises group, car bombs and other types of violence are killing an average of 100 Iraqis a day, a figure some say is greatly understated. Although that is somewhat lower than the average number killed in Darfur, it is more than made up for by the fact that the number of refugees from Iraq is double the number created by the Darfur conflict. And it is not only in refugees and deaths that Iraq holds its own when compared with Darfur.

According to reports from the United Nations Iraq now has more than 40,000 orphans who were created by the conflict. Although the total number of orphans that have been created by the war in Darfur are hard to come by, in the refugee camp in Goz Baida there are 14,000. There are certainly many more in other camps but their number is not readily ascertainable so it’s not possible to make an accurate comparison. The Iraqi numbers stand on their own without any comparison being needed.

According to the W.H.O. 70 percent of Iraqis lack regular access to clean water and 80 percent lack toilets that do not contaminate water sources. According to the World Health Organization those living in Darfur have only 12% of the potable water a population its size would need.

A 2006 national survey conducted by Unicef says 21 percent of Iraqi children are chronically malnourished. Figures for Darfur alone are not available. For all of Africa, however, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says child malnutrition in Africa has increased from 27% of the child population in the 1970s to over 33 percent in recent years. According to IFPRI “Child malnutrition is on the rise in Africa. By 2025, hunger could be a daily reality for nearly 42 million children. No estimate is available as to how many children in Iraq will be chronically malnourished by 2025. By then the war may be over. )

Iraq got to be the way it is because of the invasion that took place in 2003. Darfur got to be the way it is because of the civil strife that began in 2003. Both countries prove that Mr. Bush is right to create a commission to find out how to prevent dangerously unstable people from engaging in acts of violence. Had the study been completed in early 2003 Iraq and its people might have been spared.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: Visit his website:



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