Trucks start rolling as Iraq tackles fuel crisis


Iraq started trucking fuel from its main oil refinery in the north to cities across the country on Saturday to ease a crisis that has triggered panic buying and long queues at petrol stations.

Exasperated drivers waited for over three hours to fill their tanks in Baghdad, capital of a country which sits on the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world, as trucks rolled out of the Baiji refinery for the first time in 10 days.

Nearly three years after the US invasion which many thought would lead to the revival of Iraq's dilapidated oil industry, the authorities cannot provide their citizens with even basic fuel requirements.

Long lines of cars, vans, and rust-bucket white-and-orange taxis snaked down the streets of Baghdad, watched over by armed policemen on the lookout for queue-jumpers.

The electricity supply is also sporadic, ravaged by years of war, sanctions and now guerrilla sabotage; the U.S. military says the average Baghdad household now gets only six hours of power a day compared with a peak of 11 hours in October.

Many Iraqis are still reeling from big subsidy cuts that caused hefty fuel price increases 12 days ago; the price of gasoline and diesel jumped by up to 200 percent and bottled household gas doubled in price.

The cuts were linked to a deal with the International Monetary Fund under which Iraq gets relief from debts run up under Saddam Hussein in return for moving to a market economy.

The US ambassador to Iraq, a key player in its politics, signalled more big changes ahead in a New Year statement: