Saddam Provided More Food than U.S.
Iraq Slashes Food Rations, Putting Lives at Risk
by Ahmed Ali and Dahr Jamail
The government also wants to reduce the number of people depending on the rationing system by five million by June 2008.
Iraq’s food rations system was introduced by the Saddam Hussein government in 1991 in response to the UN economic sanctions. Families were allotted basic foodstuffs monthly because the Iraqi Dinar and the economy collapsed.
The sanctions, imposed after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, were described as “genocidal” by Denis Halliday, then UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. Halliday quit his post in protest against the U.S.-backed sanctions.
The sanctions killed half a million Iraqi children, and as many adults, according to the UN. They brought malnutrition, disease, and lack of medicines. Iraqis became nearly completely reliant on food rations for survival. The programme has continued into the U.S.-led occupation.
But now the U.S.-backed Iraqi government has announced it will halve the essential items in the ration because of “insufficient funds and spiralling inflation.”
The cuts, which are to be introduced in the beginning of 2008, have drawn widespread criticism. The Iraqi government is unable to supply the rations with several billion dollars at its disposal, whereas Saddam Hussein was able to maintain the programme with less than a billion dollars.
“In 2007, we asked for 3.2 billion dollars for rationing basic foodstuffs,” Mohammed Hanoun, Iraq’s chief of staff for the ministry of trade told al-Jazeera. “But since the prices of imported foodstuff doubled in the past year, we requested 7.2 billion dollars for this year. That request was denied.”
The trade ministry is now preparing to slash the list of subsidised items by half to five basic food items, “namely flour, sugar, rice, oil, and infant milk,” Hanoun said.
The imminent move will affect nearly 10 million people who depend on the rationing system. But it has already caused outrage in Baquba, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.
“The monthly food ration was the only help from the government,” local grocer Ibrahim al-Ageely told IPS. “It was of great benefit for the families. The food ration consisted of two kilos of rice, sugar, soap, tea, detergent, wheat flour, lentils, chick-peas, and other items for every individual.”
Another grocer said the food ration was the “life of all Iraqis; every month, Iraqis wait in queues to receive their food rations.”
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