Militants Cause Fuel Shortages

Renewed shortages in the capital result of insurgent sabotage.

Militants Cause Fuel Shortages

Renewed shortages in the capital result of insurgent sabotage.

Thursday, 1 June, 2006
Baghdad is once again suffering from a severe fuel crisis primarily because of attacks by militants on petrol stations and tankers, according to government officials.



The shortage of fuel has resulted in car queues at filling stations stretching for miles. It has also shut off many petrol-powered generators leaving some parts of the capital without electricity, just as temperatures begin to soar.



Deputy Oil Minister Akram Mutasam said poor security is hindering fuel delivery to Baghdad. There have been several attacks on oil pipelines linking southern refineries to Baghdad, while tankers carrying fuel from the Beiji refinery in Salahaddin province, Iraq's largest, have been targeted as well, he said.



There were also attacks on the Daura refinery in Baghdad and pipelines carrying oil to the Mussayab power station just outside of the capital in May, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security's Iraqi Pipeline Watch, which tracks oil-related attacks in Iraq.



In addition, Karkh fuel station in Baghdad’s dangerous Latifiya neighbourhood was shut down because labourers were threatened, said Mutasam.



Baghdad is receiving about 6 million to 6.5 million litres of fuel a day while demand runs at about 8 million to 9 million litres, according to oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad.



Refineries and oil tankers have been targeted by militant groups as the security situation worsens. In addition, it took five months to form Iraq's first permanent government, during which time the outgoing administration did not sign any contracts with neighbouring countries to import fuel, said Mutasam.



Iraq's new oil minister, Hussein al-Sharistani, said in a press conference last week that he was "optimistic that this year is the last year that the Iraqi citizen will have to wait in long queues to get petrol or pay large amounts of money (on the black market) to get (cooking) gas canisters".



Mutasam and Sharistani both declined to set a date to end the shortage, but Mutasam said the oil ministry is cooperating with the defence and interior ministries to guarantee that imported oil products will be delivered to distribution centres such as filling stations.



He also pledged to fight corruption and smuggling. Iraq pays 213 US million dollars a month to import petrol, kerosene, diesel and liquid gas from neighbouring countries like Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.



The money "would have been better spent developing oil projects", said Sharistani.



Muyasar Qasim, a professor at Baghdad University's college of administration and economics, warned the fuel crisis could paralyse parts of the public sector such as the health service because of persistent blackouts.



He said it was a crisis that needs to be solved immediately, and that "it affects the government's work and adds another hurdle to implementing its agenda".



Qasim said citizens are also suffering by having to pay high prices for fuel and cooking gas on the black market.



Petrol prices are officially 250 Iraqi dinars (17 US cents) per litre, but many in Iraq have no option but to pay at least 1,000 dinars on the black market. Otherwise, they have to wait for hours at fuel stations or go without cooking gas.



To get around the long lines outside filling stations and black market prices, Ahmed Khalil, a 43-year-old Baghdad resident, woke up at dawn and broke the capital's 6 am curfew to buy some fuel.



"Getting petrol has become an adventure that might cost a person his life," he said.



Salaam Jihad is an IWPR contributor in Baghdad.
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