Baghdad gas at a premium
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Guard duty in Baghdad taught 2nd Lt. Navin Kalicharan a new way to use his bayonet.
He eviscerates black-market gas containers.
“We just stab holes in jerry cans,” said Kalicharan, 25, of Miami, lifting his rifle to show the well-used blade.
On Monday, Kalicharan, of the Germany-based 1st Armored Division, was in his first day of guarding a gas station in western Baghdad’s Mansur district.
He and other members of Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 35th Armor Regiment had just taken over the duty from 3rd Infantry Division troops.
In addition to scattering a number of outlaw gas hawkers trying to peddle gas to the long lines at gas stations, the soldiers must also keep peace among the drivers, who wait hours to buy fuel the legal way.
In one of the world’s most oil-rich nations, people tend to get testy when they can’t get petrol.
“We’ll be doing a lot of breaking up arguments,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Hadley, from Las Vegas, who monitored cars inching up to the pumps. “We just pretty much keep order. We don’t let it become a cluster.”
A two-car-wide line stretched a mile down a main road west of the Tigris River. Some cars ran out of gas before they reached the station, so drivers pushed them the rest of the way.
Their prize was cheap gas. For 50 Iraqi dinar a liter — about 25 cents — drivers filled up their tanks at one-fifth of the price charged by curbside black-marketers. But there isn’t enough of the stuff.
Production problems from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to Baghdad and cities south have plunged Iraq into an energy crisis. Gasoline is being rationed and other petroleum products such as cooking gas are in short supply.
The causes of Iraq’s gas shortage are blamed on aging refinery equipment, postwar looting and broken pipelines.
The effects are long lines and short tempers.
“Half of my time is spent waiting for petrol,” said Mehdi Mohammed, a taxi driver with beads of sweat pouring down his face. He had been waiting in the hot sun for more than two hours Monday. It was barely 10 a.m.
Those who don’t want to wait buy their gas on the black market. Sellers fill up with cheap gas at the station, then drive around a corner and siphon the precious liquid into jerry cans.
On one Mansur street Monday, Fadhil Hamed Salman squatted on the curb, siphoning gas from his rusty 1980 Toyota Corona into five plastic bottles. Then he poured it into a metal jerry can.
Drivers pulled up to the curb and filled their tanks in minutes. They paid 250 Iraqi dinar a liter.
“I have no work and six sons to support,” said Salman, by way of explanation.
At the Al Mansur station, drivers are limited to 50 liters a day. The once-24-hour gas station now opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. for fear of bandits and looters.
Kalicharan’s soldiers will keep watch in M1A1 Abrams tanks with menacing names such as “Body Bag Filler” stenciled on their guns.
In Baghdad, “Gas Tank Filler” might be more appropriate.