STOCKHOLM -- Malnutrition among Iraq's youngest children has nearly doubled since the US-led invasion of Iraq, despite UN efforts to deliver food to the war-ravaged country, a Norwegian research group said yesterday.
Since the March 2003 invasion, malnutrition among children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old grew from 4 percent to 7.7 percent, said Jon Pedersen, deputy managing director of the Oslo, Norway-based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science, which conducted the survey.
The UN Development Program and Iraq's Central office for Statistics and Information Technology also took part in the survey.
''It's in the level of some African countries," Pedersen told The Associated Press. ''Of course, no child should be malnourished, but when we're getting to levels of 7 to 8 percent, it's a clear sign of concern."
Figures from different countries are hard to compare, said Caroline Hurford, a UN World Food Program spokeswoman in Rome, noting that surveys may be out of date or apply different sampling methods.
A UNICEF survey of Middle Eastern and North African states in 2003 found 7 million children suffering from malnutrition.
Before the invasion, the level of malnutrition among children in Iraq was about 4 percent.
The latest study of 22,000 Iraqi homes in April and May suggests some 400,000 children are suffering from malnutrition.
The results were confirmed by Iraqi interim government officials involved in the study, although the official figures are contained in a UNDP report, which has yet to be released.
Before the war, the UN oil-for-food program was credited with nearly doubling the Iraqi population's annual food intake and reducing by half malnutrition levels among children. However, Saddam Hussein's government also used it to illegally siphon off billions of dollars in illegal revenue by exploiting UN sanctions against Iraq.