Long Lines at the Pump Fuels Iraqi Black Market
Tajai Iraq - The people of Iraq continue to face the daily challenges of life in a war-torn nation, including long lines to purchase propane, kerosene and benzene.
In a competitive economy, the price of a product hovers around its approximate value which is determined by the consumer. Conversely, the Iraqi black market is taking advantage of fuel shortages by escalating prices.
"Benzene is selling for 20 dinar per liter [$0.04 a gallon], which is comparable to past prices," said Maj. Mike Warrington, civil military operations officer for the 39th Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry. "However, there has been a surge in black market fuel prices to over 2,000 dinar per liter [$5.22 a gallon], compared to around 200 dinar per liter ($0.53 a gallon) a few months ago.
"On the extreme end of the scale is light propane gas, which sells at the fuel stations for 500 dinar ($0.40) per container and carries a black market price of 12,000 Dinar ($8.28) per container," he said.
"The problem is supply and demand," said Capt. Joel Lynch, commander of the 39th's Company A, 3rd Battalion, 153rd Infantry, who is monitoring the three fuel stations in his area of operations. "For whatever reason there isn't enough supply at the pump to meet the demand."
While there is speculation on what caused shortages, a significant portion is said to be filtered to the black market. Makeshift roadside stands are visible selling containers of fuel at inflated prices.
"Due to the lack of supply, citizens are forced to turn to the black market in order to meet their needs," said Capt. Jonathan Stubbs, of Searcy, Ark., who is also monitoring three fuel stations, as the commander of the 3rd Battalion's Company C.
"I have heard of fuel trucks arriving at stations and being set aside for black market buyers.more money in the pockets of the station owners and managers...it's a very corrupt system," Stubbs said.
Warrington said that Company A has sought to ease the distribution issues in their area. "When we arrive at a fuel station we notice that operations tend to smooth out fairly quickly," said Warrington, who tracks 17 fuel stations for the 39th Brigade Combat Team.
"Some of the problem is that only a few pumps are operational and there is some cutting in line to get to those pumps. While we are present, people tend to be orderly and the lines progress smooth until we leave.
"Every improvement is a step in the right direction," Warrington continued. "This is a complicated process and like all of our other efforts, we probably won't see the level of change we desire overnight. In the long run, I am confident, that if we keep working in good faith with the people, that we will see progress," he added.
In the interim, Iraqis continue to wait in line for hours, even overnight in some cases according to Stubbs.
"I just hope that we can get the system balanced, so that all fuel is being distributed fairly and at the right price," he said. "However, I do not expect to fix the problem before I leave. It will take a while in order to rid the system of corruption."
"I believe that as long as we approach the problem with an open mind and work with the people in the development of our solutions and courses of action, that we will achieve a positive outcome that the people can own," Warrington said.
"We are probably not going to be able to solve all the problems we are confronted with in the short time we are here," he continued. "However, it is important to me that we leave this a better place than we found it. If everyone adopts that point of view, then pretty soon improvements and progress will take on their own inertia. Once that happens it will become very difficult for terrorists and other enemy forces to sustain a foothold in this country."
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