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The Politics Of Food

The Iraqis have learned to give thanks for smaller mercies. They pick up their rations under the UN's oil for food program which has just been renewed for another six months. CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports.

Subsistence is checked off a list... about five and a half pounds of rice... 20 pounds of flour... some sugar... a little tea... cooking oil... some soap. It's supposed to last a month... but it doesn't really.

"It's maybe enough for 20 days," said one man.

And that is for a man of some influence, a retired Iraqi colonel, who's driven to shop on the black market, where there is food... at a price.

"...about ten times the price," he said

The UN says the food program is working, that no one is starving here.

"In malnutrition alone we have stabilized. It's not good yet, there is still a problem with malnutrition, more than there should be, but it has stabilized," said UN spokesman George Summerwill.

But the program is dogged by practical and political problems. The Iraqis are supposed to be able to sell $5.25 billion of oil every six months but they can't because the industry infrastructure has rotted away and the oil price is way down.

Anyway, they say, keeping Iraqis alive is primarily a way for the West to ease its conscience.

To the Iraqi regime the food being allowed into the country isn't just a humanitarian gesture, it's what one official today called camouflage - hiding the real problem - the sanctions. Food isn't just food in Iraq, it's a weapon, used by both sides.

Even the UN admits, that in a country that is crumbling, the food program doesn't really fix anything.

Dr. Habib Rajeb, director, World Heath Organization, said, "I would describe it as a palliative, not a solution to a really collapsing situation but as a palliative. Like somebody is dying but you give him some perfusion to keep him alive."

The intent of the sanctions is to bring pressure on Saddam Hussein by squeezing his people. Thus far, only the second part of that plan seems to be working.

Reported by Mark Phillips
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