Nearly one in four Iraqis lives below the poverty line, according to a study released Wednesday by an Iraqi government agency.
The Central Statistics Authority study offered another window into the challenges confronting Iraq, as the country sitting atop the world's third largest crude oil reserves struggles to rebuild after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
CSA spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said 23 percent of the country's 27 million people live in poverty, most of them in the rural areas.
The three self-ruled Kurdish provinces in the north had the lowest poverty rates.
Hendawi said the study blames failing infrastructure, corruption and high unemployment for the spread of poverty, which was defined as living on $2.50 or less per person, per day.
He said the food ration system has played a role in minimizing poverty.
"We expected a higher percentage of poverty, but apparently the ration system is helping the poor to cope with the situation," he told The Associated Press.
Under the system, all Iraqis are issued ration cards allowing them to buy 10 items — sugar, flour, rice, powdered milk, cooking oil, tea, beans, baby milk, soap and detergent — for a nominal fee.
The system has long been a subject of debate in Iraq.
Some Iraqi officials said that food rations might have to be cut due to a lack of funds in the budget.
The southern province of Muthanna has the highest poverty rate at 49 percent. The lowest rate — 3 percent — is in the northern province of Sulaiminiyah, according to the report, the first in Iraq's history.