For years, I’ve heard the fantastic tales of untapped black wealth beneath the sun-beaten Iraqi earth. So, when the mayor of Fallujah insisted he had no gas to run school and hospital generators, I had to ask the obvious question, where's the gas?
From day one, we've seen the slogan "No war for oil" painted on makeshift signs and held up in different languages. Kein Blut für Öl smeared on the boulevards of Berlin, but the streets of Fallujah are empty as the mayor of the city of a thousand mosques has declared a city-wide ban on automobiles after a vee-bed bomber killed over 30 people who were attending a funeral. At the weekly Fallujah City Council meeting, members representing the city services, hospitals, engineers and police all had plans for securing Fallujah and preventing future attacks on the civilian population. There were suggestions for new barriers, promises of round the watch patrols and different procedures designed to prevent the infiltration and threatening of health clinic employees. There was just one thing missing to make it all happen--the fuel!
The mayor of the city of Fallujah, a young man whose life is constantly threatened, was happy to receive the gift of an armored truck. Now he was going to be able to get to the various meetings without having to mobilize a military squad, but right after the government agent handed him the keys he asked if he could bum some gas.
Lt. Colonel Mullen, Battalion Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines out of Camp Lejeune was not buying it. "We've registered over 100 fuel trucks going through various checkpoints and into the city, where's all the fuel going?" Everyone I've asked, Iraqi Police, members of the civil affairs unit, interpreters, shop owners and even grunts on the ground all have a different variation of the same answer, different shades of "I don't know." But everyone has an idea what is done with the fuel. It shows in the city infrastructure. Download oil_oil_everywhere_1.mp4
Since the aging city powergrid is insufficient for a population with increasing electrical needs, almost every block has a private generator. Like an oversized spiderweb, extension cords and improvised wiring bring electricity to many homes . Those generators run on gasoline and the gasoline somehow makes its way to the owners of those generators who collect money from the homes that feed off the system. A similar makeshift distribution system is how fuel gets to the roadside stands and kids sell it in plastic jugs like pink lemonade. There's something fishy going on, and it's possible the revenue rasied through evaporated gasoline is making its way to fuel the insurgency.
"It's being sold on the black market," answered one interpreter. No one understood what would stop the Fallujah police from confiscating a contraband newly refined gas trucked in from neighboring Jordan, but it turned out "the black market" was actually just a faulty translation of the term "free market". Of course, under Saddam the private sale of fuel was prohibited, today things have changed, but it takes time for engrained figures of speech to update. The council speaker reiterated his request for more fuel. Lt. Colonel said he couldn't oblige them. "When we get them to think for themselves they usually come up with a solution." The parent who won't give the teenager the keys to the car is familiar with this technique. The Fallujah council carried on with the session and somehow, like the week before, they'll find a way of getting the fuel no one can find, but everyone is using.