BAQUBA - It's turning out to be about the hardest winter Abu Muslih has known.
Too often it's a choice between buying food and medicines, and buying kerosene
to keep his children warm.
"I see them feeling cold, so I go out to buy kerosene at any price,"
Muslih, a 49-year-old city employee told IPS. "My salary cannot pay for
kerosene. So I use my savings, or try to avoid other necessities."
This is a problem in home after home in this city of about 300,000 located
40 km north of Baghdad, in the violence and unemployment ridden Diyala province.
"When we can, we burn wood to keep our houses warm," says city resident
Abu Nasem. It is hardly the best choice. "Since there are no fireplaces
in our houses, wood fire can be harmful and dangerous."
And there is fuel needed to cook with. "Iraqis mainly use gas cookers,
and the price of a container may reach 35 dollars," resident Jafar Nadem
told IPS. "This kind of price is very high in relation to the income of
any family. Large families may use three or four containers a month." Prices
are high, and supply low. Kerosene shortages last all winter now; shortage of
other fuel, all year. The occupation and the conditions it has created have
much to do with the shortages.
"Many of the refineries have come under the control of the Mahdi militia
(of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr)," Mohammed al-Neemy, an employee at
a petrol station in Baquba told IPS. Normally, he said, each petrol station
needs a couple of 36,000-liter tankers daily. But these days all of the city
gets on average a tanker a day and not all of that gets to the petrol
"Petrol station owners sell it in the black market before it reaches the
city," an employee in an oil company who spoke on condition of anonymity
told IPS. "These owners have become millionaires in the years of occupation."
Petrol is sold on the black market in 15-litre cans. "I buy a 15-litre
can for anything from 20 to 28 dollars a day," resident Hussein Fadhly
told IPS. "The prices differ from time to time."
Fadhly estimates that only 10 percent of the cars in the city remain on the
streets. "Most petrol stations are closed," he said. "People
now leave their cars at home and go to work by bus or taxi." If they can
"It has become impractical for taxi drivers to buy petrol at such high
prices because we find that we earn less than the cost of petrol," 47-year-old
taxi driver Kadhim Zgair told IPS.
"I've been a taxi driver for more than 25 years, but now I cannot earn
my family's living," said taxi driver Radef Omran. Naeem Taban, another
taxi driver, said "I have stopped going to the petrol station. The majority
of the drivers are now jobless."
People have begun to use animal-drawn carts to move people and goods, and sometimes
even as ambulances. Many feel nostalgic about the days of Saddam Hussein when
petrol was in abundance, at just a few pennies a liter.
The little petrol that arrives finds many uses besides transport. "It
is used for generators when electricity shuts down," resident Ibrahim Ali
said. And scarcity has made that use too minimal.
Petrol scarcity has a knock-on effect on most businesses. "Transport costs
have increased terribly, and it has become unaffordable to transport goods from
one province to another," grocer Hatem Nijris told IPS. "This has
affected the price of goods for the consumer."
Some areas of Baghdad, and other cities under the control of the Mehdi Army
militia are not suffering as much from the fuel crisis because the militia distributes
fuel at lower prices.