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Long gas lines are potent symbol of U.S. occupation
By Brian Conley
Updated Dec 10, 2005 - 12:37:00 PM

BAGHDAD (IPS/GIN) - Although Iraq has the second-largest oil deposits in the world, Iraqis are forced to sit in excruciatingly long lines to buy gasoline and kerosene. Before the recent war in Iraq, the sanctions decreased access to many resources, but gas was still plentiful and affordable. That changed with the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

After the fall of Saddam’s regime in April 2003, the security situation in Iraq swiftly deteriorated. In addition to the looting of the Iraqi National Museum and ministry buildings, the pipelines carrying Iraq’s oil were sabotaged more than 200 times. The recurring acts of sabotage have greatly depleted Iraq’s local supplies of oil. Much of the oil that is produced is controlled by foreign companies contracted to manage the oil early in the war.

Iraqis believe that the fuel produced in Iraq is exported, and the fuel available for use by Iraqis is imported from Kuwait or other oil-producing nations in the region.

The shortage has dramatically changed daily life in Iraq. Baghdad residents may only drive every other day, depending on their license plate numbers. Some of the wealthier families own two cars with different plate numbers, enabling them to drive any day.

Drivers can only buy fuel on the days they can drive. This restriction, combined with the long gas lines, means that some people can only drive every third or fifth day. The even and odd restriction, and the long gas queues, have had a huge, negative impact on the employment situation.

Drivers are some of the only Iraqis still able to find work in Baghdad. Having lost their previous professional positions or the ability to pursue their education, many members of Iraq’s middle class have pressed their mid-range to luxury vehicles into transporting those lucky enough to have found gainful employment.

Kerosene has also become scarce and expensive. The failing electricity grid has created a large market for kerosene-powered generators. The gas shortages and the long lines mean some families cannot obtain gas to keep their lights on or their houses warm in the winter.

The new Iraqi constitution, passed recently in a historic referendum, has paved the way for increased privatization of Iraq’s oil fields and outsourcing their vast wealth to foreign multinational corporations. As a result, it appears Iraqis will continue to wait in long lines for small amounts of expensive fuel.

(Omar Abdullah contributed to this report.)

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