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Shooting, gas shortages in Kurdish Iraq over contract spat

By AFP - Feb 05,2020 - Last updated at Feb 05,2020

Oil installations in Kurdish region of Iraq are seen in this undated photo (AFP photo)

BAGHDAD — A dispute between companies transporting liquefied petroleum gas across Iraq's northern Kurdish region has escalated into armed attacks and skyrocketing gas prices, government and industry sources said on Wednesday.

The crisis was sparked by competition over a contract to transport liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) from the northeastern field of Khor Mor to consumers in the autonomous region.

"The Golden Jaguar company had for several years been transporting the gas and distributing it by truck," a source in the Kurdistan regional government (KRG) said.

"As part of a rigid tendering process in 2019, it lost the bid to another firm called Sorgas, which pledged to begin shipment on February 1, 2020," this source told AFP.

The official and two industry sources alleged that Golden Jaguar had links to the powerful Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) based in the northeastern city of Sulaimaniyah.

Sorgas, meanwhile, was tied to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a second KRG official said.

The companies do not acknowledge any ties to the two political factions, which have been rivals for decades.

When Sorgas began moving LPG on February 1, unidentified men attacked the company's headquarters and briefly detained its director in a bid to pressure him to drop the contract, KRG officials and industry sources told AFP.

The director declined AFP's request to comment.

The following three nights, unidentified gunmen fired on Sorgas trucks transporting LPG across the Kurdish region, the officials and industry sources said.

No one was hurt in the shootouts, but the LPG in the trucks was lost, transfers temporarily halted and cooking gas prices more than tripled from 7,000 Iraqi dinars (nearly $6) to up to 25,000 Iraqi dinars ($20) per 15 kilogramme canister.

KRG authorities were in pursuit of the armed men who attacked the Sorgas facilities and trucks, KRG Interior Minister Rebar Ahmed said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said police units specifically trained to protect oil and gas infrastructure were being deployed at the field and along transport routes to prevent further incidents.

But Suran Omar, a member of Kurdistan's parliament, said he believed the political dispute behind the incidents was still simmering.

"In the Kurdish region, party officials invest in businesses — there is no taking into account public funds or the daily life of citizens," he told AFP on Wednesday.

LPG, also known as propane, fuels cars and heating appliances, and is often used for cooking.

The shortages were still affecting citizens in northern Iraq on Wednesday.

In Sulaimaniyah, prices had dropped slightly, but there were long lines at supermarkets as families scrambled to buy enough to be able to heat their homes and cook, an AFP correspondent said.

A taxi driver in the Kurdish region's capital erbil told AFP "I didn't buy gas earlier this week because I thought this crisis would be resolved.

"But my wife had none left so I was forced to go to the market."

"They were selling a gas tank for 25,000 Iraqi dinars and I was forced to buy it. The parties disagree and we're forced to pay the price," said the driver.

The spat has also affected the war-ravaged city of Mosul, about 80 kilometres west of Erbil, where waiting times at petrol stations had doubled.

Kurdistan produces 1,000 tonnes of liquefied gas per day, 600 tonnes of which is consumed locally and subsidised by the regional government.

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