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Hoping to claim postwar role, U.N. sends food to northern Iraq

SILOPI, Turkey—Thirty-one tractor-trailers filled with wheat flour reached this gritty Turkish border town Friday, bound for northern Iraq. It's the first major aid convoy headed there since U.S. and allied troops began their effort to remove Saddam Hussein's regime.

The United Nations World Food Programme, Iraq's primary source of food aid before the war, is the shipment's sponsor. Resuming aid delivery while a conflict is raging is unusual for U.N. personnel, but the agency wants to reestablish its presence in Iraq while the Bush administration is still debating whether the U.S. military should control post-war aid to Iraq.

"We want to establish a corridor for smooth passage," said Heather Hill, a spokeswoman for the U. N. program. Deliveries are essential, Hill said, because even before the war's devastation, 60 percent of Iraq's population—estimated at between 24 million and 27 million—depended on public distribution of food.

"The collapse of something like that could be catastrophic," she said.

Hill said 1,000 metric tons of wheat flour was shipped Friday to the U.N. program's warehouse in Dohuk in northern Iraq. Another 2,000 metric tons will soon be shipped to Irbil and 3,000 metric tons to Sulaimaniyah.

Last Sunday, three trucks carried powdered skim milk across from Silopi into northern Iraq, paving the way for Friday's larger shipment. The trucks were loaded at the program's warehouse in Gaziantep, Turkey, which serves as a staging ground.

The U.N. aid is paid for under the Oil for Food Program, where Iraqi oil is sold on the global market and the revenue is used by the United Nations to feed the Iraqi people.

The initial shipments are wheat flour, since bread is a staple of the Iraqi diet and in short supply. Future shipments, Hill said, will include vegetable oil, rice and sugar.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.