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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 November, 2003, 08:50 GMT
Iraq oil-for-food scheme ends
By Peter Greste
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

The highest spending project ever undertaken by the United Nations has come to an end.

Iraq's oil-for-food programme helped more than six out of 10 Iraqis survive the twelve years of sanctions aimed at forcing Saddam Hussein to honour UN resolutions.

A guide to living conditions and the reconstruction effort in Iraq

Iraq's new American-led administration will wind down the programme over the next seven months.

At least on paper this is the end of an era.

The oil-for-food programme was the first ever humanitarian effort to be funded entirely by resources belonging to the country it was designed to help and, with some $65bn passing through its accounts.

To cushion the impact of sanctions on Iraq the UN sold its oil and used the proceeds to buy food and medicine.

It helped more people to survive than any other single UN effort.

'No difference'

Fifteen million Iraqis were entirely dependent on its handouts, but all of this will not suddenly stop with the project's formal end.

The coalition's administration here has renegotiated almost all of the food distribution contracts and over the next seven months it will gradually wind down the programme, spending the last $4bn still in the kitty.

The coalition's man in charge of taking over the work, Ambassador Steven Mann, told me most Iraqis will not notice any difference in the way they get their food, which is just as well according to several people I spoke to here.

Over an evening meal of food handouts one unemployed mechanical engineer, Zahir Kamil al-Qassab warned that if the project is to shut down too quickly it will only antagonise a population already stretched to breaking point.

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