The war has denied Iraq the manpower, fuel and transport needed to harvest what had promised to be a bumper spring crop.

Food experts now say the best hope for hungry Iraqis is that Baghdad will quickly be defeated. Then, thousands of tons of emergency food could flow into the country, and farmers could receive essential supplies."Right now, it's pretty bleak," said John Parker of the U.S. Agriculture Department. "Food stocks are low; prices are high. Farmers are going back to primitive ways - horse-drawn carts, sickles. Everyone is wondering how they'll get the harvest in."

Iraq had been counting on increased production to make up for some of the food lost in August when the United Nations imposed a trade embargo to force Iraq to relinquish Kuwait.

Before the embargo, Iraq imported about 80 percent of its food, and investment in agriculture was second only to military spending. Iraqis ate well.

But by September, the country began rationing flour, cooking oil, rice, sugar and other food. Bakeries closed. People began extending wheat used for baking bread with ground barley and other grains normally used to feed animals.

Earlier this month, the government halted the sale of fuel, making matters worse. "Now there's no way to run pumps, tractors or combines for bringing in the wheat," said Susan Epstein, a congressional researcher in Washington.

Roads are scarred by allied bombs. Bridges are down. Spare machine parts are a fond memory.

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