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Two weeks before expected food shortage, supplies start rolling into Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Less than two weeks before the food shortages in Iraq were expected to reach crisis levels, supplies have started rolling into the capital, raising hope tempered with skepticism.

"We've been told that people will start running out of food in early May," said 1st Lt. Shawn Gundrum of Reading, Pa. "Our first supply trucks arrived Sunday, and we've also been told that no more will be on the way for a couple more days. That means we might be able to start sending food trucks out to where it's needed within a week. That is ahead of the timetable, but not by much."

Gundrum, the spokesman for the Army unit that's overseeing the main food warehouse in Baghdad, said the 50 trucks pulling 20-wheel trailers were loaded with hundred-pound sacks of rice, sugar, beans and flour, as well as boxes of baby food. The warehouse, which had been looted, was mostly empty. Forklifts and machinery to help move the supplies had been stolen.

"A group of workers came in from the city, looking for work, though," Gundrum said. "I've been amazed. I thought we were looking at a week to unload all this by hand. These guys worked all day, without breaks even for water, and they're close to being done in a day."

The food is intended for Baghdad's poor.

Food also is arriving in town for those with money. Raad Mohamed, the owner of Arise Baghdad, a produce store near downtown, pointed at piles of potatoes, carrots, watermelons, onions, and on and on.

"We are getting more in each day, from farms as far away as Basra," he said. "I do not think food will be a problem here in the future."

He added, however, that his prices had doubled since the war began.

Across town, by 10 a.m., the line outside Baghdad Bakery had grown to 1,000 people, symbolizing what was right and wrong in postwar Iraq.

What was wrong was easy to see. One woman, a schoolteacher wearing black robes and head covering, began to cry as she looked at the long line in front of her.

"I have waited three hours already for bread," she said. "Why must I do this? Why did America leave us like this? Iraq is empty. There is no food. There is no electricity. There is no water. There is no security. Why?"

What was right was subtler. People were leaving the bakery with bread, 20 long rolls for 500 dinars, or about 18 cents. Before the war, this couldn't have happened. Baghdad Bakery made bread only for Saddam Hussein's Special Republican Guard.

Now, the bread was for the city's poor. Amera Ibraheem counted the baked loaves and placed them in plastic bags. She's worked for the bakery 30 years. She said people were worried about the bakery's future: They were down to a three-day supply of flour and had no idea where to find more.

But, she added, everyone was committed to keeping the bakery open. As Baghdad fell and the bakery's Baath Party manager fled with the workers' salaries, the employees arrived for work. They set up a system in which they would sell the bread inexpensively and share the profits.

On Sunday, the manager returned to the factory, escorted by two bodyguards. He demanded all the money the bakery had earned, and the bread. He planned to sell it to the city's wealthier residents. The workers chased the manager and his guards away, warning them not to come back.

Ibraheem said the workers wanted nothing to do with the days of Saddam.

"We wonder if there is a future for our country in these days," she said. "But for the workers here, and the poor who can now buy the bread, we are happier, at least for a while."


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-FOOD