Iraq has some of the largest crude oil reserves in the world, but despite that, gasoline and other fuels are difficult to obtain. Authorities have imposed rationing, forcing those who need extra fuel to resort to the black market.
The current price for fuel is 3000 Iraqi Dinars, or $2 for 40 liters. Although that price would be a bargain in any western nation, the fuel has to last drivers for days, until they can buy more under the rules of the rationing plan.
The lines at petrol stations start forming well before sunrise, and people say they sometimes sit for hours, sometimes winding up with nothing to show for their effort because station tanks have run dry. This process of waiting and hoping can last for days.
The alternative is the black market. Along the roads in some parts of Erbil people have containers of fuel for sale, but the black market price is, of course, much higher.
Typically, the price is more than double, close to $5, for 20 liters. For people who make their living driving taxis and other vehicles, the impact is significant. They take home less money at the end of the day, and they must also charge taxi passengers and freight customers considerably more to compensate for the high fuel costs.
A number of factors are working against Iraqis.
Because of limited refining capacity in northern Iraq, crude oil from this area is shipped to Turkey, where it is made into fuel and then brought back into the area. In recent months, there have been attacks on Turkish tank trucks, reducing the number of willing drivers to make the journey into northern Iraq.
Another factor is that ration coupons are good only in the district in which they are issued. So, someone driving from one area to another may not get enough fuel to make the trip back home. Running out is a constant worry.
In one long column of vehicles waiting for fuel on the outskirts of Erbil, some frustrated drivers said they suspect petrol stations may be diverting some of their supplies to the black market to make more money. But this is difficult to prove.
Authorities have inspectors checking petrol stations to make sure that what is in their tanks was obtained through proper channels and is sold legitimately. But one inspector explained it is difficult to know where this fuel comes from, and where it goes. He says that the best solution would be to get more refineries going in Iraq.