Iraqis are used to higher food prices when they fast from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan, attributing this to greater demand and merchants manipulating the market price.
However, while violence has not hindered Ramadan in the past, the situation is much worse this time as Sunni militants, including fighters from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have waged a lightning offensive.
This has prompted the U.N. Food Agriculture Organization to warn of serious food insecurity as prices soar.
Additionally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has cut government salaries in areas affected by the conflict, including parts of Baghdad and the disputed city of Kirkuk.
The Mutahidoun coalition, led by speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, called Thursday on Maliki to reverse his decision, describing it as “collective punishment of millions of citizens.”
Taghreed Naqshabandi, a Kirkuk-based member of Kurdistan’s Journalism Syndicate, told Al Arabiya News: “There’s no help from the government,” and “people working in government ministries haven’t received their salaries yet. I don’t like to use this [sectarian] term, but Sunni areas are the ones not receiving government salaries.”
Since late 2012, Iraqis - particularly in the largely Sunni province of Anbar - have been protesting against what they describe as Maliki’s sectarian rule.
According to observers, the government’s bloody suppression of these protests has prompted Sunnis to take up arms and form alliances with radical groups such as ISIS.
The situation has worsened with the declaration by ISIS on Sunday of an Islamic caliphate stretching from Syria’s north-western province of Aleppo to Iraq’s Diyala province.
As food supply has fallen, prices have risen, Naqshabandi said. “Some of the merchants have stopped importing.”
Iraq, which depends on imports, closed its border crossings in the north and west, leading to higher food prices, Adel Abduljabar, head of media relations at the Ministry of Commerce, said on Saturday.
Shurooq al-Abaychi, a lawyer and human rights activist in Baghdad, told Al Arabiya News: “There’s no control over prices, supervision and proper services, therefore burdens on the citizen are multiplied, especially with this summer and Ramadan.”
The instability is forcing people to hoard and store more food, Abaychi said.