Unrest Over High Fuel Costs--In IRAQ!
By Lee Russ
Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:26 AM
Although the U.S. media didn't pick up on this until yesterday, foreign news sources started reporting it on Thursday--borrowing a card from the U.S. political deck, the Iraqi government apparently waited until after the recent elections there to raise the price of oil, gas and other fuels. Actually, they just cut the subsidies that kept the prices low, and they did it because an agreement with the International Monetary Fund required it as a condition of an agreement to forgive loans to Iraq.
Readers in America know what that means, and they know which segment of society really takes a hit when something as basic as fuel prices go through the roof.
Making matters worse, according to an AP report dated today is that "In Baghdad, hundreds of cars lined up at gas stations as word spread that Iraq's largest oil refinery shut down two weeks ago because of threats of insurgent attacks."
The result so far? Massive gas lines, some violence, and, according to the Washington Post, the return of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi as oil minister.
Iraq's government has sharply raised the price of fuel and other petroleum products this month, sparking discontent and protests and worrying experts who say the increases could hurt millions of poor and throw the country into further turmoil.
Since the December 15 parliamentary elections, fuel prices have increased fivefold, mostly because the outgoing government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has cut subsidies as part of a debt- forgiveness deal it signed with the International Monetary Fund.
The move has shocked Iraqis long accustomed to hefty subsidies on gasoline, kerosene, cooking gas and other fuels, and thousands have demonstrated in and around the capital to protest the price increases. The oil minister has threatened to quit.
"Iraqis had some hope that this election would be a new start," said Mustafa Hussam Haidary, 46, as he waited to fill up his pickup truck at a Baghdad gas station. "This hope is gone because the explosions and car bombs came back on the next day, the conflicts between the political blocs started again and then suddenly all prices increased after the government made their move on the oil products."
Iraqis had gone from "hopeful to sudden panic and sorrow again," he added. "I think Iraqis have lost trust in their government."