In order to force Iraq to cooperate in the dismantling of its arsenal of unconventional weapons, the comprehensive United Nations trade embargo that had been imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was continued in full force after the crisis. In the years that followed, this led to massive impoverishment in Iraqi society, of which the staggering death rate among children was a symptom. Fearing the political repercussions of massive starvation, Baghdad in 1996 agreed to the Oil-for-Food Program, which had been set up the previous year, under the aegis of the UN.
Since then, every citizen of Iraq has received a free basic food packet from one of thousands of distribution points spread across the country. The packet contains flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, soap, milk powder, and other items, but hardly any additional protein sources. It covers minimal nutritional requirements for the first three weeks of the month; the rest needs to be supplemented by income from the recipients themselves, which is almost impossible for many because of the high unemployment. About 60 percent of the population was completely dependent on this food distribution for survival in the years of the embargo.
Although the economic problems in northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan) were serious, life there began, during the 1990s, to be better than that in central and southern Iraq. Among the reasons for this were the smuggling of oil products from Baghdad to Turkey and extensive aid programs run by Western aid organizations. Moreover, after 1996 the region received 13 percent of the revenues from the Oil-for-Food Program. Finally, the many Kurds in the diaspora helped the family members left behind to get through these difficult years.