Tempers are flaring around a gas station in Khabat, a non-descript town on the road linking the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Arbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region.
It’s a four-hour wait under the blazing sun to the pump, but at least there’s gas here. On the other side of the roads, the gas station manager turns back customers: there won't be any gas until tomorrow at the earliest.
But that’s not enough to discourage customers. Some, like Ali Ahmad, a taxi driver, leave their cars behind, waiting for the morning to be sure to be they are served.
“Jihadists took Mosul, there has been fighting and now there's no petrol there,” said Ahmad. “Now the crisis affects us too.”
Over the past few days, fighting has been intense at Baiji, where government troops have been battling militants from ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria) and other extremist groups for control of Iraq’s main oil refinery.
The Baiji plant accounts for a quarter of the country's refining capacity and its production is entirely slated for domestic consumption across northern Iraq. One-third of the gas consumed in the Kurdish areas comes from Baiji.
The violence has disrupted gas supplies in the region at a critical time. Kurdish peshmerga troops engaged in border clashes with ISIS-led fighters need fuel for their vehicles – as do emergency services, such as ambulances. Adding to the pressure, are the estimated 300,000 displaced people who have fled the ISIS-controlled areas for the safety of the Kurdish autonomous zone, also known as Kurdistan.
The exodus started when Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, fell to rebel control earlier this month.
For those who stayed on in Mosul, life is getting increasingly difficult. “Mosul is out of everything,” said Abu Ibrahim, a Mosul resident who drove 40 kilometers to get to this pump. “There is no petrol, no water, no electricity. There’s nothing. Everyone has fled to Kurdistan, which has created a crisis here. Before, it was not like this. There was no problem with the gas here. But after one week, it’s like this,” said Ibrahim gesturing to the lines of vehicles.
On the other side of the street, Ahmad, the taxi driver, blames the residents of Mosul for exacerbating the problem. “People from Mosul just fill their tanks here and sell the gasoline for much more over there,” he says.
Zaher Sharif, the manager of the gas station, agrees. “People buy gas here for 500 Iraqi dinars (around 30 cents) per liter, and sell it on the other side for more than 2500 dinars (around 1.60 euros) per liter.
Oil fields, but no refining capacity
There's a cruel irony to the situation here. As a result of the crisis and the collapse of the embattled Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga have taken control of the huge oil fields near Mosul and Kirkuk.
Yet the region does not have the refining capacity to turn it into gas. A small refinery in the region that was barely working will now be re-opened. It won't be enough to make up for the shortfall caused by the closure of the Baiji refinery and to respond to increased demand.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders are keenly aware of the problem and are desperately trying to address it. “The Ministry of Natural Resources and local authorities are trying to solve this crisis with the help of foreign companies and perhaps Turkey because it has the capacity to supply gasoline to the autonomous region of Kurdistan,” explained Tariq Sarmami, a spokesman for the Kurdish parliament.
There does not seem to be any quick solution for getting much-needed gas to the pumps, in fact the government anticipates that this problem could last for months. Kurdish authorities have said they plan to implement a coupon system limiting gas purchases to one tank per car per week. But everyone knows, this is just a stopgap measure. The population in these parts is braced for a long, hard summer.
Date created : 2014-06-23