For the fifth successive day, Qassim Saifadin stands with crutches in front of the Jabal Bor gas station in the city of Kirkuk, waiting to obtain a petrol coupon that will enable him to fill his vehicle with gasoline that is sold at the government price of 450 Iraqi dinars IQD per liter (USD 30 cents), instead of having getting it for double in private gas stations.
Saifadin was fasting and could barely move his legs as he stood in line with other drivers. "Hardly, and after five days of coming and going, I received a coupon for filling up gasoline. If the price of commercial gasoline was not so high, I would not have exhausted myself in this way," Saifadin called for facilitating the process of distributing coupons to drivers.
The Oil Products Distribution Company in Kirkuk has received the task of distributing petrol coupons from food agents and is currently distributing it through four public stations and has tightened the procedures for distribution.
These measures aim to limit the illegal issuance of the coupon, but these measures have caused congestion in front of the stations, which angered motorists.
"The headache and hardship of these procedures is ours, this is the city of oil and gasoline, yet he had to wait five days on crutches to get the gasoline coupon," Saifadin complained.
this is the city of oil and gasoline, yet he had to wait five days on crutches to get the gasoline coupon
The gasoline coupons system has been in operation in Kirkuk governorate for nearly 10 years, in order to regulate the work of state petrol stations and prevent the smuggling of gasoline to other governorates of Iraq, including the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR.
Through these coupons, drivers of private vehicles in the province can receive 40 liters of fuel per week at a price of 450 IQD/liter, while its price at commercial gas stations reaches 900 IQD.
On Tuesday, April 12, a number of drivers gathered in front of the Jabal Bur petrol station, east of the city of Kirkuk, and they closed the circle road in protest against the tightening of procedures for receiving the petrol coupon.
According to the new procedures, the vehicle must be registered under the name of its owner, or a certified power of attorney must be brought for those not registered for the owner.
It is also necessary to bring a picture of the vehicle, showing the registration plate clearly with the front bonnet open. The driver of the vehicle must be present with his vehicle in front of the gas station where the coupons are distributed, and that the vehicle’s annual registration card to be valid. These procedures led to the emergence of large congestion and slow processing of transactions.
As a result, Saifadin had to be on his crutches by himself to complete his transactions and get the fuel refill coupon.
Subsidized fuel policy is followed since many years in Iraq which had a central state-run policy in all sectors up to 2003, when Saddam Hussein was ousted, per which the Iraqi government through the public sector was providing all services.
In Iraqi Kurdistan region, most of petrol stations are private where gasoline costs double compared to state-run petrol stations all over Iraq excluding the Kurdish region which receives small quantities from Baghdad and the rest is imported.
The cost which is soaring up day after day due to oil prices in global markets, following Russia invasion of Ukraine, has pushed motorists in Kurdish towns adjacent to the disputed territories to fill tanks of their vehicles, a matter pushed Iraqi officials to limit their subsidization for this sector in those areas.
The tightening of procedures came after a follow-up by KirkukNo) showed that some drivers from the IKR were buying petrol coupons from the black market in Kirkuk for an amount ranging from 3,000-5,000IQD (USD2-3) in order to receive fuel in Kirkuk stations at a subsidized price.
The rise in the price of gasoline in the governorates of the region - the price of normal gasoline reaches 1,000 IQD - led to a rise in the price of the gasoline coupon to 14,000 IQD ($10), which created congestion in front of government filling stations and angered drivers.
A source in the Oil Products Distribution Company on the condition of anonymity told KirkukNow, "These matters made us tighten procedures and take the power to distribute gasoline coupons from food agents."
Kirkuk, April 12, 2022: Drivers gather while waiting to get a state coupon for gasoline at Jabal Bur public station. Video: KirkukNow
In addition to tightening the procedures for issuing petrol coupons, the Iraqi government raised the prices of gasoline in several areas adjacent to the Kurdistan Region in four Iraqi governorates from 450 dinars to 650 dinars.
Kirkuk administration distributes, through 22 governmental gas stations, 40 liters of gasoline per week for private vehicles and 80 liters for taxi vehicles, through coupons at a price of 450 dinars per liter.
Iraq holds the second-largest oil reserves following Saudi Arabia but years of conflict and sanctions have left its refineries in dire straits, with the country now relying heavily on imports of oil products despite daily export of over three million barrels of crude oil per day.
But Sajida Mazhar, 56 years, says, "Our whole life in Iraq has become a queue. The routines have increased. I have been going to this station (Jabal Bur) for three consecutive days, but I have not yet obtained a coupon for filling gasoline because of the congestion and routine.... If I knew it would be like this, I was going to transfer ownership of the vehicle to my son to have him wait in line, I can't."
The northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1.7 million Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmen. It has long been at the center of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.
Currently, Iraqi army, local and federal police, Special Forces along with Shiite paramilitary of Popular Mobilization Forces PMF, undertake the security of Kirkuk province and the disputed territories.
"In previous years, we used to get petrol coupons from food agents without facing any hardship and transactions were completed without problems, but they made things difficult for us this year," Sardar Nader, 50, says.
After the protest rally organized by a number of drivers on April 12, the Oil Products Distribution Company decided to increase the number of committees for distributing gasoline coupons from four to 13 in order to facilitate and expedite drivers' transactions.
A source told KirkukNow the mechanism has been shifted following complaints by motorists indicated that food agents was complaints that arrived last year from some drivers stating that food agents were receiving 5,000 to 10,000 dollars for the petrol coupon.
According to the anonymous source, 165,000 fuel coupons have been printed so far, yet only 10% of it has been delivered to the motorists.
"We plan to issue smart cards to facilitate the access of citizens in the city of Kirkuk to gasoline at government stations, and to prevent vehicle drivers from other provinces from receiving government gasoline at the expense of the citizens of Kirkuk."