“All the petrol in Holland is good”, my friend said. And when she said it, I longed for the well-kept petrol stations in my homeland, where you can be sure to fill your tank any time with a good quality petrol, where choices are simple: normal petrol, super petrol or diesel and prices only differ because of the competition between the brands.
I tried to explain to my visitor that Iraq has different kinds of petrol, and hardly any of them are good enough to keep your car happy. That some of the petrol is so bad, that you have to change your oil every few thousands of kilometres if you do not want to cause damage to your engine. That ‘super’ petrol in this country means ‘foreign’.
And those queues for the coupon-petrol, they are indeed hard to understand. Because of the high petrol prices - which have risen from a few dollar cents to over a dollar per liter - the government is giving every car owner coupons so he or she can buy weekly a certain amount of petrol for a reduced price.
Sure, the petrol prices are high, but is this the only way to offer drivers cheaper petrol? By making them loose their time getting the coupons and then waiting in a long queue - for petrol that often is of low quality too? Why not put a subsidy on all petrol so the coupons can go into the bin?
I tried to explain about the refinery plants that are not enough, and I pointed out the small private refineries between Erbil and Kirkuk. And while I did so, it hit me all over again. We are living in a country that is made of oil and that lives off the income from the oil – and yet proper petrol is a rare commodity.
And it is even worse. Kurdistan is in the middle of an economic boom, where some people are getting enormously rich. So rich, that they started bringing in the Maserati’s, Porsche’s, the most special and expensive BMW’s and Mercedes’. What do they feed them? Foreign petrol, because the Iraqi petrol is too bad.
It’s been like this for a while: the few things that are produced in Iraq are of poor quality. Do you want something good, then it has to come from abroad. But surely this should not apply for the petrol, when one lives in an oil country like Iraq?
This column was published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe.