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Fuel shortage hits hard

[Iraq] Baghdad fuel shortage.
Hawking petrol in Baghdad (Mike White)

At Shahid Adnan Hospital in Baghdad, war-wounded are queuing up to see the plastic surgeon, Dr Kamal Husayn. But on the other side of the city, Kamal is himself queuing up - for petrol to get to work. So far, he has been waiting over an hour in a line four deep and stretching back more than 400 metres down the road from the Al-Khalisah petrol station.

He should reach the pumps in about half an hour, he estimates. The situation frustrates him beyond belief, that in an oil-rich country like Iraq he should be wasting two hours several times a week lining up to get petrol just to travel to the hospital, where he is badly needed.

"I feel very tired. I dislike this situation. It is very difficult," he said. He would try and save time by paying extra and buying petrol from hawkers, but they often mixed the fuel with water, and he could not afford to break down.

Across Baghdad the situation is repeated at countless locations, where queues are growing and tempers fraying because of petrol shortages.

Ahmad Ibrahim was an English teacher at a secondary school, but with his school having remained closed for nearly six weeks, he resorted to taxi driving to support his family. On Wednesday, he arrived at the Al-Rabi'ah petrol station in Baghdad at 08:00 local time and waited for two hours. But before he was able to reach the head of the queue to fill up his old blue Mercedes, the petrol ran out and he was told to come back next day.

In another petrol station queue, Mahir Basha said he usually had to wait two hours. "I have three shops, and waiting here is costing me much money." He said fights often broke out among angry customers as their frustrations boiled over. "No electricity, no good water, no gas for cooking - it makes life very hard and it makes me very angry," Mahir said.

Walid Mustafa Muhammad Ali, the manager of the station where Mahir was queuing, said he was limited to one daily 36,000-litre tanker from the refinery. Before the war, he received 150,000 litres a day.

He sells his premium petrol at 50 Iraqi dinars (3 US cents) a litre, but some who buy petrol from him in jerry cans then sell it on the street for up to six times that price. Sabah Muhammad is one of those buying petrol to sell. He used to work in the coffee shop at the up-market Al-Rashid Hotel, but, like most Iraqis, lost his job when the war started.

Now, in order to survive, he lines up every day to buy two 20-litre jerry cans of fuel, which he then sells at three times the purchase price to people who do not want to queue. "Before the war, this was never happening. It’s not a good situation. Iraqi people are now very angry, because they have no jobs, no salaries, and tempers are high - they are very nervous for their futures," he said.

At the Al-Rabi'ah petrol station it is only 11:00, but it has already closed because the fuel has run out. Its manager, Rida Ahmad, said he could only get 15,000 litres a day whereas before the war he got four times as much. "I feel depressed about the situation, and very upset because people wait for two or three hours, and I can’t give them anything because supplies have run out."

He said the current supplies were from strategic government stores and he worried that they too would run out before new supplies could come in from the refinery. Hindering the rehabilitation of the refinery was the fact that 70 percent of its staff had not returned to work because they were unable to travel or had not been paid, he said.

Whereas he could now raise the prices of his fuel, Rida said he knew people had little money and he would not exploit them. Another problem was only having electricity for an hour a day, which meant he had to rely on generators for the petrol pumps, but these in turn used up fuel. "There has to be a new government, new ministers, security and salaries, but I don’t think this will happen quickly - only slowly, slowly,"

Meanwhile, petrol is not the only fuel in short supply. At the Al-Zahrah Gas Company in southern Baghdad, the foreman, Salim Ali, said the plant had been forced to shut down three weeks ago because it had run out of supplies. Most Baghdad residents use gas for cooking, now even more of them due to the shortage of electricity.

Salim said a vital pipeline north of Baghdad from a refinery had been damaged in the fighting, meaning no gas supplies. People were therefore forced to go to the main Taji gas station in the north of Baghdad to get bottles filled, and these were then being resold on the black market at hugely inflated prices.

Before the war, a gas refill for a bottle that would last a family two weeks cost 250 dinars. Now the price was five times that. Salim said he was told every day that supplies would be restored in a couple of days, but he had stopped believing this.

In fact, he did not know what to believe at the moment. "We now feel more freedom and hope that the future will be better, but of course it’s very difficult now."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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