Oil-Rich Baghdad Asks Why It Waits Hours in Gas Lines

From: Alejandro Valle Baeza (valle@SERVIDOR.UNAM.MX)
Date: Thu Dec 04 2003 - 08:22:06 EST

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 2 - Gasoline fuels fires. The lack of it can do the


>> Ask Hadi Ali, 58, a civil engineer and irate car owner. He had been
>> waiting an hour on a recent morning to fill his gas tank by the time
>> his car finally crept up to the pumps. The line behind him was 110
>> cars long.
>> "We were expecting the American forces to come here and provide us
>> with things, to make everything better," he said as he stared out the
>> windshield of his maroon Peugeot sedan. "We are a rich country. We
>> have oil. But nothing is happening."
>> For the past two weeks, motorists in this traffic-choked city have
>> waited up to half a day just to fill their tanks, after several
>> months of more modest lines. The problem, officials say, is mainly
>> from guerrilla attacks on northern oil pipelines.
>> Some taxi drivers have spent alternate days getting gas rather than
>> working. What is more, the high-grade gas prized by owners of imports
>> like BMW's and Mercedes-Benzes suddenly disappeared from stations
>> more than a week ago.
>> Over the summer, American soldiers were posted at gas stations to
>> discourage a black market in gasoline. But now jobless men stand by
>> the lines of cars and offer to sell gas from plastic jerrycans at
>> huge markups - sometimes five times the stations' rate. As Mr. Ali
>> inched up to a big government-run gas station called Al Hurea, which
>> means "freedom," a boy raced up to a Range Rover with a jerrycan and
>> a funnel cut from a plastic water bottle.
>> As with so many things here, frustration over waits often turns to
>> venomous feelings aimed at Iraq's foreign administration. In early
>> August, riots broke out in the southern city of Basra over shortages
>> of gasoline and electricity.
>> Asim Jihad, a spokesman for the Oil Ministry, said repeated bombings
>> of the northern pipelines were the main cause of the current
>> shortages. On Nov. 17, insurgents blew up a section of the pipeline
>> between a refinery in the town of Bayji and the main refinery in
>> Baghdad.
>> Mr. Jihad added that the surge in car imports since tariffs were
>> lifted after the American-led invasion - 250,000 have flooded the
>> country - has also raised demand for gas.
>> The gas pumps need electricity, and large sections of Baghdad lost
>> electricity for almost three days two weeks ago, contributing to the
>> problem. Multihour blackouts have remained frequent ever since. The
>> power failures have also led many people to use gasoline-powered
>> generators, so they siphon gas from their cars, worsening the
>> shortage.
>> Zubeid al-Zubeidy, the manager of Al Hurea, said the government
>> usually sent four full tankers a day to his station, but that number
>> fell to two or three on several days in the past week. "I'm nervous
>> because of the people," he said, a handgun on his desk. "If I get 100
>> percent deliveries, then it's easy to provide gas. If not, then the
>> people will come and take their anger out on me."
>> Dan Senor, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the
>> American-led administration, said the run on gas was seasonal and
>> perhaps worsened by consumers who buy fuel when they do not need it.
>> "We've heard from some Iraqis that when they suspect there is going
>> to be a shortage, there is a sort of hoarding that goes on," he said.
>> <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/03/international/middleeast/03LINE.html>
>> --

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