Support our mission

BEIJI, Iraq — An Iraqi riddle: In a country soaked in petroleum deposits, where the roads are thickly clustered with gas stations and waiting customers, why can’t most Iraqis get enough oil?

Every day in Beiji, at one of the nation’s three main oil refineries, nearly 30 trucks loaded with up to 41,000 liters of oil drive out, headed for gas stations in Baghdad, Tikrit and other cities. How many liters make it from the trucks into Iraqis’ gas tanks without being siphoned off into the shady black market? No one knows.

But soldiers with 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment — part of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky. — hope a new plan will get to the murky bottom of the freely flowing black-market oil business.

The new plan, put into effect this week at the urging of local leaders, will tightly monitor the city’s 40 gas stations, restricting oil sales to a certain number of gas stations every week. As many local gas stations are currently able to operate for only one week out of the month anyway, locals say the plan won’t represent a significant loss of profit for gas station owners.

But will the plan work? Iraqi officials — including elected officials and oil refinery officials — who discussed the plan with battalion commander Lt. Col. Randy George seemed clearly upset, although all nodded in assent and agreed that something had to be done.

“The only thing that’s going to make me happy is if there’s enough fuel out there and people are paying what they should be paying for it,” George told the passel of clearly uncomfortable Iraqi leaders. “Until that happens, we’re just going to dig deeper and deeper into that place until it’s uncomfortable for everybody.”

“I think you’re seeing some hands involved at all levels,” said Capt. Jeremy Bowling, commander of Company A. “It’s this crazy web.”

Although it’s hard to tell who’s involved in what, Army officials say they know exactly where the black-market oil profits go.

“The money’s going straight to the terrorists,” Bowling said. “It’s getting laundered, filtered and being used to finance the insurgency. We know that. It’s no secret.”

What’s also no secret — surprisingly — is where many of the actors come from. In a total departure from the standard Iraqi line, local officials acknowledged that many of their troubles come from within.

“Why can’t you arrest the people who come to the refinery in a (ski) mask?” George asked a high-ranking Iraqi official who provides security as a member of a Strategic Infrastructure Battalion.

“Because he is from this town,” the official said. “If they find out we’re the ones who did it, we’ll get butchered.”

“Our position of democracy,” the Iraqi official added, “is different from your position.”


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up