"Finally we've got someone who will help us," said Omar Khalid Al-Jabouri, a 43-year-old video games shop owner from Jihad, a suburb of western Baghdad. "We've been suffering since 2003 with the system's bad foodstuffs, which are not fit for human consumption, and delays in distribution and shortages of items."
Under a 2010-2014 memorandum of understanding, WFP will offer consultation and training to Trade Ministry employees on how to buy, transport, store and distribute food items nationwide in a timely manner while maintaining quality. WFP will not be actively involved in any stage of the buying and distribution process.
On 4 January, Safa-Eddin al-Safi, Iraq's acting trade minister, announced the partnership in a joint press conference with WFP Iraq country director Edward Kallon, describing it as "a major and important step on the path of improving the food rationing system".
"This partnership aims to achieve the Ministry's goal of securing the food rationing system's items nationwide by making use of the WFP experience," Al-Safi said.
Kallon said WFP's more than 40 years of experience in international food assistance would enable it to play a key role in helping improve the management of the food rations' supply chain.
Iraqis asked were optimistic about the partnership, even calling for greater WFP involvement.
"When it comes to the food rationing system, I prefer to leave it in the hands of WFP, from A to Z, because the Iraqi government has proved that it is unable to handle it properly," Kholoud Mohammed Amin, a 33-year-old hairdresser from New Baghdad, on the eastern side of the capital, told IRIN.
Basra resident Ahmed Abbas Wali, a 53-year taxi driver, echoed Amin's call for giving WFP a greater role, and said that the government should pledge to compensate food aid recipients with money if they did not receive their parcel.
"What is happening now is that we are buying the things from the market when the government can't distribute them. The government should pay citizens to buy the missing materials," Wali said.
PDS food parcels
Iraq's food rationing system, known as the Public Distribution System (PDS), was set up in 1995 as part of the UN's oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. More than half of Iraq's 29 million residents depend on it, according to Trade Ministry statistics.
Monthly PDS parcels are supposed to contain rice (3kg per person); sugar (2kg per person); cooking oil (1.25kg or one litre per person); flour (9kg per person); milk for adults (250g per person); tea (200g per person); beans (250g per person); children's milk (1.8kg per child); soap (250g per person); detergents (500g per person); and tomato paste (500g per person).
Last year, former Iraqi trade minister Abdul-Falah al-Sudani was arrested and charged with corruption and embezzlement, mainly in relation to food imports for PDS parcels. The minister's brother and another official were also arrested while seven other officials, including another brother, who are all wanted for the same alleged offences, are still at large.