May 9, 2003
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Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. But the country is suffering a severe gasoline shortage in the aftermath of the US invasion.
Few gasoline stations are open in Baghdad, and there are cars lined up for several kilometers at those that are operating.
Drivers are waiting six hours or more to reach the pumps. Those with time and patience can buy gasoline for just three U.S. cents per liter at the official price.
And for those in a hurry? Well, a thriving black market is available if they are willing to pay up to 25 cents a liter.
One man who has turned to selling black market gasoline is Azam Qas Hamudi. The unemployed mechanic said he is just trying to make a living and blames the United States for Iraq's economic problems.
"We are finished from Saddam Hussein, from the nightmare of Saddam Hussein, and the Americans now come and do all these bad things to us," said Mr. Hamudi. "What about [President] Bush saying he would provide the comfortable and good life for the Iraqi people?"
The U.S. Army is trying to so something about the gasoline shortage.
"We're running a fuel distribution point. We've got several hundred ….. I think it's 100,000 gallons [400,000 liters] of gasoline that was seized by coalition forces during the military campaign," said Sergeant Scott Lewis guards a distribution center where motorists can fill up for free. "It was seized from the Iraqi military. And we've discovered a large problem with black marketing here in downtown Baghdad because of problems getting fuel to the pumps. In an effort to stem the tide of the black marketing, we're taking the gasoline that we took from the Iraqi military and giving it to the Iraqi people, directly, free of charge."
Sergeant Lewis said the seven-day give away is intended to drive at least some of the black marketers out of business.
"This is difficult now, life in Iraq. I want to stop this problem. No fuel, no food, no money," said Mohammed Hadi while waiting to fill up on the free gasoline. He is retired and lives on a government pension of just $4 a month.
No one has an explanation for the gasoline shortage, but there are many theories. Some gas stations are closed because they were looted and the pump handles were stolen. Iraqi refineries are not operating at pre-war capacity. The black market is siphoning off supplies. And some tanker truck drivers are suspected of selling gasoline outside official channels.
Some Iraqis say they are embarrassed that their oil-rich nation has a fuel crisis, which is aggravating all their other post-war problems.