Page 5 of 5   <      

Agencies Tangle on Efforts to Help Iraq

At a government store in Fallujah, Iraqis pick up basic items such as wheat, rice, sugar and cereal  --  rations that many  of them have depended on for years.
At a government store in Fallujah, Iraqis pick up basic items such as wheat, rice, sugar and cereal -- rations that many of them have depended on for years. (2004 Photo By Mohammed Khodor -- Associated Press)

In the end, the embassy could not stop Brinkley. He had the support of senior Pentagon officials and top military commanders in Iraq. But the embassy is not bending over backward to help him, the economic officer said.

"We're letting him do his own thing," the officer said.

* * *

The ration working group outlined its policy in a two-page document sent to Khalilzad on Nov. 15. His deputy, Daniel Speckhard, raised the issue later that month with Barham Salih, one of Iraq's deputy prime ministers.

Iraqi government officials have told the Americans that they favor restructuring the ration system but that they do not intend to make big shifts anytime soon. Indeed, the only reform the Iraqi government has been willing to undertake has been to exclude senior government officials from receiving rations.

"It needs to be changed, but change has to be done after the security situation stabilizes," Abdul Hadi al-Hamiri, the deputy trade minister, said in a telephone interview.

But that has not stopped Commerce from pushing for reforms. Last month, Lavin traveled to Iraq to meet with trade ministry officials. His PowerPoint presentation included an exhortation to revise the ration system by providing handouts only to the needy.

The Iraqi officials present nodded in agreement. But that is about all they have done, embassy officials said.

"No Iraqi politician wants to get rid of free food. It's political suicide. They're not going to do it," said a former embassy official who worked on ration-related issues. "These grand schemes are irrelevant. I can't tell you how many hundreds of hours everyone has wasted on this issue, when there were all sorts of more productive things they could have been doing with their time."


<                5

© 2007 The Washington Post Company