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: "In 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."
Trade Minister Abid Falah al-Soodani told the Iraqi parliament: "Since the government's 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."
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.
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: "Do 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."
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.