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Iraq Transition

Fury at the fuel station

Iraqis frustrated by shortages in oil-rich country

By Arwa Damon

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BAQUBA, Iraq (CNN) -- "No gas, no fuel. This is destruction, not freedom!"

It is just another morning at the pump at a fuel station in Mansuriye, northeast of Baquba, where tempers of the weary civilians waiting for gasoline in oil-rich Iraq are flaring.

Dozens of men crowded at the locked gate say they have been waiting for hours to fill their tanks.

But who is responsible for solving these issues?

"Let Allawi come here, [interim prime minister] Ayad Allawi, Ayad Allawi, where are you? Where is the freedom, where is the democracy? We've been waiting since 4 a.m. Why?" screams Salah Hassan Abbas. "Saddam Hussein did not do this to us!"

After the March 2003 invasion, almost all problems were blamed on U.S. forces. Now, less than two weeks after Iraq's elections, many of the angry drivers at this station are turning to the Iraqi government to provide the answers and the solutions.

"We want someone who will bring us security and stability. We don't want this situation anymore. Whether it is Saddam or anyone else [who is in power], we want someone to govern with equality," Abbas fumes. "It's the responsibility of the government."

He is trying to support his seven children on 150,000 Iraqi dinars a month, the equivalent of $100, transporting construction materials.

Frequent attacks on every part of the oil industry have caused severe shortages in many cities, bringing distribution to a near standstill.

At this station, which opened six months ago, the situation has progressively worsened.

Mubarak Fakir Mubarak, the Ministry of Oil representative assigned to this station, says some days it gets gasoline, some days it gets diesel, and sometimes it has to stay closed.

"The security is not stable. The tankers get hit en route, and the stations come under attack," Mubarak says.

"So it's hard for the ministry to supply its standard quantities. So the stations are affected. So we get specific amounts from the directorate, depending on what is available."

Mubarak has been with the ministry for 35 years. "Before [during Saddam's regime] whenever there was a crisis the government would react immediately. There was the problem in the 1990s, and within a week the government has a solution," he says.

Now, he says, it's going to be up to the newly elected government to prove itself and provide solutions.

The amounts are rationed -- 50 liters (13 gallons) for small cars, 100 liters (26 gallons) for transport vehicles, and 300 liters (78 gallons) for cargo trucks.

"It's not enough for those that are driving trucks, but that's their share. They have to make due. It's better than nothing, until there can be stability in life," Mubarak says.

At less than 5 cents a liter, the price is cheap. But the shortages force many drivers to the thriving black market, where prices are three times higher.

Moufed Fleiyeh, who transports food staples from the Jordanian port of Aqaba at $500-$700 a trip, has limited options.

He needs 1,200 liters (312 gallons) to fill his truck. He can either pay the inflated black market rates or keep coming back to the gas station line.

"I spend 10 or 15 days to get enough gas for the trip," he says.

The irony of the situation is lost on few.

"What is this? We are a country of oil!" shouts 20-year-old Ahmad Khadem. "This is Bush and Allawi's democracy -- no oil, no diesel, no gasoline, no country!"

He lives in two mud huts with his brothers, who all work in construction making about $2 a day.

"We have hope after we voted that somehow there will be a solution to unemployment, to everything," Khadem says.

He wants to get married but says he can't afford it under these circumstances --only one of many Iraqis now hoping, against the odds, that the new government will provide them with a better life.

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