The road to peace in Iraq is fraught with danger around every corner; the most obvious threats to Iraq's young democracy being insurgent forces and sectarian violence.
President Obama, who recently met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, stated, "There will be attacks on Iraqi security forces and the American troops supporting them. There are still those in Iraq who would murder innocent men, women and children. There are still those who want to foment sectarian conflict."
But there are also silent threats to the Iraqi people, such as hunger and malnutrition. Late last year, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 930,000 people were suffering from hunger in Iraq.
Another 6.4 million Iraqis live on the edge of hunger. They are getting barely enough food, and without the Iraqi government's monthly food ration, they too would fall into the pit of hunger. Iraqis struggling to receive this most basic necessity do not present a picture of a stable, successful democracy.
The U.S. army recently undertook a number of missions in the country to help relieve hunger. On July 15th, forces from the U.S. 25th Infantry Division, together with Iraqi soldiers, carried out a humanitarian aid drop to help hundreds of families in a neighborhood in Baqubah.
U.S. Army soldiers from Green Platoon, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division provide security while soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 19th Brigade, 5th Iraqi Division provide humanitarian aid to villagers in Shuzayf, Iraq, on March 27, 2009. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Walter J. Pels, U.S. Navy. (Released)
Another mission in July delivered food to families in the Hiteen neighborhood of Hawijah. Army 1st Lt. Sean Spencer explained, "Hiteen has been identified by the Hawijah city council as the poorest area of Hawijah."
Sgt. Dan Click reported on more aid missions during May in the Diyala province, including one which demonstrated the meaning of using food for peace. U.S. soldiers delivered food to Iraqi villages inhabited by both Arabs and Kurds, two groups with a tense and sometimes hostile relationship. Within Diyala and other provinces, Arabs and Kurds are embroiled in territorial disputes. But on this day, the two sides came together over food.
"The two worked well together," said Sgt. Dennis Musselman, "they were standing arm and arm together and we had no issues at all."
Another positive sign is that the WFP is starting a school feeding program for impoverished children. Beginning in September, the UN agency will provide free school meals to "170,000 primary school children in eight extremely food-insecure districts in Diala (Diyala), Ninewa, Sulaymaniya and Wassit Governorates."
School feeding provided by the World Food Programme will help Iraqi children.
WFP had put out an appeal in May to get funding for this and other food assistance programs for Iraqis. According to Robin Lodge of WFP, "we have the funds to get started." This is just the beginning, though. WFP plans to expand school feeding beginning in January.
But like any other food program, this one depends on receiving enough funding.
Providing meals at school is very significant since it boosts classroom attendance and performance. Knowing a child will receive food at school is a tremendous relief for families struggling in poverty. Making sure all Iraqi children can receive school meals is a critical benchmark for success for this fledgling democracy.
The positive results from the U.S. Army and the World Food Programme should not go unnoticed. President Obama and the Congress should emphasize using food for peace in crafting an effective foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere.
For background on efforts to start school feeding in Iraq, please read School Lunches for Peace in Iraq.