Iraqis Protest Rise in Food Prices, Officials Blame Ukraine War

Iraqis demonstrate to denounce rising prices of basic food items, in al-Haboubi Square in the center of Iraq's city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province on March 9, 2022. (AFP)
Iraqis demonstrate to denounce rising prices of basic food items, in al-Haboubi Square in the center of Iraq's city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province on March 9, 2022. (AFP)
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Iraqis Protest Rise in Food Prices, Officials Blame Ukraine War

Iraqis demonstrate to denounce rising prices of basic food items, in al-Haboubi Square in the center of Iraq's city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province on March 9, 2022. (AFP)
Iraqis demonstrate to denounce rising prices of basic food items, in al-Haboubi Square in the center of Iraq's city of Nasiriyah in the southern Dhi Qar province on March 9, 2022. (AFP)

Protests erupted Wednesday in Iraq's impoverished south over a rise in food prices that officials attributed to the conflict in Ukraine.

For about a week, the price of cooking oils and flour have skyrocketed in local markets as government officials have sought to address growing anger with various statements and measures.

More than 500 protesters gathered in a central square in the southern city of Nasiriyah -- a flashpoint of anti-corruption protests that gripped the country in 2019.

"The rise in prices is strangling us, whether it is bread or other food products," retired teacher Hassan Kazem said. "We can barely make ends meet."

On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced measures to confront the increase in international prices.

These included a monthly allowance of about $70 for pensioners whose income does not exceed one million dinars (almost $700), as well as civil servants earning less than 500,000 dinars.

The authorities also announced the suspension of customs duties on food products, basic consumer goods and construction materials for two months.

Trade ministry spokesman Mohamed Hanoun attributed the rise in cooking oil prices to the conflict in Ukraine.

"There's a major global crisis because Ukraine has a large share of (the world market in cooking) oils," he said.

On Tuesday, a protester was seriously injured in a demonstration in the central province of Babil that was marred by violence, a security source said.

The interior ministry announced it had arrested 31 people accused of "raising the prices of food commodities and abusing citizens".

A protester in Nasiriyah on Wednesday denounced the "greed of traders who manipulate prices".

Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of foodstuffs, including sunflower oil and wheat, and the Middle East is particularly dependent on imports from the two countries.

Iraq was rocked by nationwide protests in 2019 against rampant corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor living conditions.

More than 600 people were killed and tens of thousands injured during the demonstrations.



WHO Says Many People in Gaza Facing ‘Famine-like Conditions’

Israeli soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Feb. 13, 2024. (AP)
Israeli soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Feb. 13, 2024. (AP)
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WHO Says Many People in Gaza Facing ‘Famine-like Conditions’

Israeli soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Feb. 13, 2024. (AP)
Israeli soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on Feb. 13, 2024. (AP)

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that many people in Gaza were facing "catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions".

"A significant proportion of Gaza's population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food."

Tedros said there were more than 8,000 children under five years old who have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition, including 1,600 children with severe acute malnutrition.

"However, due to insecurity and lack of access, only two stabilization centers for severely malnourished patients can operate," he added.

"Our inability to provide health services safely, combined with the lack of clean water and sanitation, significantly increases the risk of malnourished children."

The war in Gaza began on Oct. 7 when fighters led by Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and took more than 250 hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's response has caused the deaths of more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gazan health ministry, displaced most of Gaza's population of 2.3 million and caused widespread hunger and destruction.

A UN inquiry on Wednesday found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes early in the Gaza war, and that Israel's actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses.

Tedros also highlighted a separate health crisis in the West Bank, where he said healthcare had been targeted by nearly 500 attacks since Oct. 7.

"While the world's focus has been on Gaza, there is also an escalating health crisis in the West Bank, where attacks on healthcare and restrictions on movement of people are obstructing access to health services," he said.

"In most areas of the West Bank, clinics are only operating two days a week and hospitals are operating at about 70% capacity."