By Steven Ehrenberg

Rations in the monthly food baskets available through the Oil-for-Food program include tea, chick peas, beans, lentils, cooking oil, sugar, rice, flour, powdered milk, salt, baby formula, and supplementary baby food. Also included are two bars of soap and powered detergent. (Photo Shehzad Noorani/UNOHCI/OIP)

The oil-for-food program is a UN project that helped to feed 16 million Iraqis over the past eight years. Now that Saddam Hussein is no longer the leader of Iraq, the U.S. wants to end this program and help the Iraqis get back to feeding themselves.

What is the oil-for-food program and why did it come about? To answer these questions, you need a quick history lesson. After the first Gulf War in 1991, the UN forbid Iraq to trade with the rest of the world. Economic sanctions were imposed on the country until it got rid of its most dangerous weapons. These sanctions, or orders forbidding trade, kept Saddam Hussein from making money he could spend developing weapons of mass destruction.

But as Iraq grew poorer, the conditions of its people worsened. Malnutrition and disease spread among Iraqis. Critics of the sanctions blamed the economic policy for hurting Iraqis, but not Iraq's leader. Others argued that Saddam Hussein, not the sanctions, was to blame, and pointed to the millions of dollars he spent building palaces instead of feeding his people.

Housing construction through the Oil-for-Food program which was under way before the war. The housing is for Internally Displayed Persons in Binaslawa in northern Iraq near Erbil. (Photo Sonia Dumont/UNOHCI/OIP)

In 1995, the UN came up with a solution. Iraq would be allowed to sell oil to the rest of the world in exchange for food, medicine, and other supplies to help its suffering population. This solution was called the oil-for-food program.

To keep Hussein from getting his hands on the oil money, the UN administered the program, trading the oil for humanitarian supplies. Today, 16 million Iraqis depend completely on the program to eatÑmore than half the population of the country.

Many believe that the program has been a success, because it helped many struggling Iraqis back to health. But there were problems, too. Hussein began selling the right to pump oil from the ground and using this money to make himself stronger.