By Hassan Latif al-Zubaidi.
It’s not the first time the Iraqi government has tried to abolish the ration card system. And it won’t be the last. Kufa University’s Hassan al-Zubaidi, an adviser on poverty reduction, explains why the ration card just won’t go away.
Last week the Iraqi Cabinet announced plans to abolish the ration card system, with which the government gives out household staples to the populace. The scrapping of the social welfare plan, which is over 20 years old, was seen as an important step toward economic development in the private sector; it’s something that has long been recommended by economic analysts. However, only five days after the decision was made, it proved to be so controversial – some have described it as political dynamite – that it was reversed.
The ration card system was introduced to Iraq by the regime of former leader Saddam Hussein. A form of social welfare, the national food assistance programme began in the early 1990s after sanctions were imposed on Iraq following the country’s invasion of Kuwait. It allowed card holders to claim a variety of household staples.
However since the US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Hussein’s government in 2003, the ration card system has been failing dramatically, plagued by inefficiency, widespread corruption and security issues. The long process of getting flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, baby milk and other relevant staples from government warehouses into the hands of citizens as well the poor quality of the distributed items has made the ration card system more of a burden than a saviour.