US starving Iraq

2008-01-09

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.countercurrents.org/cogan060108.htm

Cutbacks To Iraqi Food Rations Threaten Malnutrition And Starvation
By James Cogan
06 January, 2008
WSWS.org

Under conditions of widespread malnutrition, run-away inflation and mass 
unemployment, the Iraqi Trade Ministry is preparing to slash the provision of 
subsidised food and basic hygiene necessities under the Public Distribution 
System (PDS).

The ministry insists that cutbacks are unavoidable because it has not been 
promised a sufficient budget for 2008. Mohammed Hanoun, chief-of-staff to the 
trade minister, told Al Jazeerah last month: ³In 2007, we asked for $3.2 billion
for rationing basic foodstuffs. But since the price of imported food stuff 
doubled in the past year, we requested $7.2 billion. That request was denied.²

Trade Minister Abid Falah al-Soodani told the Iraqi parliament: ³Since the 
government¹s financial support will not be available next year, we will reduce 
the items from 10 to five and the quantities of the remaining items will not be 
the same as this year and in past years.²

According to Al Jazeerah, the first changes will take effect this month. Basic 
items‹baby milk formula, tea, chick-peas, soap and washing detergent‹will no 
longer be given out. Only flour, sugar, rice, cooking oil and powdered milk will
be available. The monthly amount will fall, according to UN newsagency IRIN, to 
just 9 kilograms of flour, 3 kg of rice, 2 kg of sugar, 1 litre of cooking oil 
and 250 grams of milk powder, per family member covered by a ration card.

A further change will be introduced in June. An income test will be introduced 
that will essentially strip anyone with a modestly paid job of the ration card 
needed to receive the monthly hand-out. An estimated five million people will no
longer be eligible to use the PDS.

The PDS was introduced by Saddam Hussein¹s Baathist regime as a short-term 
answer to the UN economic sanctions imposed during the Gulf War of 1990-1991. 
The food rationing continued after the first US-led war on Iraq, as the UN 
refused to lift the trade embargo on the grounds that Iraq had to prove it had 
destroyed its chemical and biological ³weapons of mass destruction².

By late 1996, amid outrage over the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions, 
the UN established the so-called ³oil-for-food² program, in which Iraq was 
permitted to sell a limited amount of oil to be used to purchase food and 
essential items, as well as to pay reparations to Kuwait and finance the UN¹s 
own administrative and weapons inspections costs.

While the food ration helped prevent mass starvation, Iraq was unable to 
purchase essential medical supplies, causing a drastic rise in infant mortality 
and a sharp fall in overall life expectancy. It is estimated that the sanctions 
led to as many as one million Iraqi deaths, including 500,000 children, between 
1991 and 1998.

Denis Halliday, a UN official responsible for enforcing the regime, resigned in 
protest in October 1998, declaring: ³We are in the process of destroying an 
entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and 
immoral.²

By the time of the March 2003 invasion, virtually the entire Iraqi population 
was to some extent reliant on the ration to meet their basic nutritional 
requirements. The US military occupation therefore had little choice but to 
continue the program. It has utterly failed, however, to ensure that the 
population received it.

In 2004, a survey by the World Food Program (WFP) found that at least 6.5 
million Iraqis were highly dependent on the food ration and a further 3.9 
million would become ³food insecure² without it. The WFP estimated that at least
27 percent of Iraqi children were already suffering chronic malnutrition. Many 
of the poorest Iraqis were not consuming their ration, but selling part on the 
market to help get the money necessary for other essentials such as clothes and 
rent.

More than three years on, Oxfam International estimates that just 60 percent of 
Iraqis are still able to pick up their ration, compared with 96 percent in 2004.
Security concerns prevent large numbers of people from going to nearby 
distribution centres. Sectarian militias fostered by the US occupation use the 
allocation of food as part of the systems of patronage they preside over. The 
WFP has announced this year that it will try to provide emergency food relief to
more than 750,000 Iraqis who have been displaced by violence and cannot access 
the PDS.

Those who can reach distribution centres find that many do not have items in 
stock due to delivery delays and shortages caused by the wholesale theft. The 
quantity of food available has fallen by 35 percent under US occupation, 
according to experts cited by the IRIN UN newsagency. The quality has also 
sharply deteriorated, with people expected to consume substandard products or 
items past their expiry date.

At the same time, the social need is glaring. Official unemployment is 17.6 
percent, with an additional 38.1 percent of the workforce classified as under 
employed. Annual inflation is estimated at over 20 percent, down from 52.8 
percent in 2006 when the Baghdad government abolished fuel subsidies that once 
gave Iraqis among the lowest petrol and diesel prices in the world. Oxfam 
estimates that at least four million people live in what it classifies as 
³absolute poverty².

Cutbacks to the food ration will only heighten the immense difficulties facing 
the population. A health worker told Dahr Jamail of the International Press 
Service (IPS) last month: ³I and my wife have five boys and six girls so the 
ration costs a lot when it has to be bought. I cannot afford food and also other
expenses like study, clothes and doctors.²

Among the most deprived layers of Iraqi society, hundreds of thousands face the 
prospect of malnutrition and outright starvation. A Baghdad mother of two told 
Al Jazeerah: ³If they reduce the quantity of the ration, we will be displaced 
[made homeless] as the money to pay bills will have to be used for food. If we 
are considered a poor family today, tomorrow we will be considered absolutely 
desperate.²

An unemployed man told the newsagency: ³Reducing the number of subsidised items 
will turn my sons into malnourished children and put us into a level of poverty 
worse than we have any seen.² Mohammed Falah Ibrahim, a food expert working for 
the health ministry, warned: ³There should be a complementary plan in place to 
ensure that financial aid reaches those poor families who will be affected by 
this, otherwise many Iraqis could die of hunger.²

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under pressure to provide 
sufficient funds in the upcoming budget to maintain the program.

The main Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, who is sensitive to dangers of social 
discontent among the Shiite urban poor, has called for the changes to the ration
system to be reversed. His spokesman Abdulmahdi al Karbalaai told Azzaman on 
December 6: ³Do they [the government] know that 60 percent of Iraqi people 
depend on food rations? What will happen to these people if the government goes 
ahead with its plans? Suffering will aggravate and famine will be on its way in 
Iraq.²

The Maliki government claims it cannot find additional money to feed the 
population, but its 2007 budget allocated $7.3 billion to building up the 
military and police apparatus which is assisting the American military repress 
opposition to the occupation‹an increase of some 150 percent.

The Bush administration, which is responsible for creating the social 
catastrophe and spends some $15 billion a month on maintaining military 
occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, provides scant humanitarian 
assistance.
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