Iraq has no fuel, if pays Turkish debts

Thirty-four Turkish companies have decided to halt refined fuel shipments to Iraq because of the country's more than US$1 billion (Ђ830 million) debts, State Minister Kursad Tuzmen said Saturday. The decision came despite a promise from Iraq Friday to settle overdue debts.

"The tankers have stopped loading as of today," Tuzmen, the minister in charge of foreign trade, told the Anatolia news agency. "We are hearing from the Iraqi side that the payments will be made soon. But our companies want this decision to be put into effect," he said. "If the payments are made our companies are ready to start shipments."

Turkey is a major supplier of refined oil products to neighboring Iraq. Turkish companies provide unleaded gasoline, diesel, liquefied natural gas and jet fuel. Tankers at Turkey's Mediterranean ports of Mersin and Iskenderun had stopped loading fuel, although tankers that had already been loaded would take the fuel to Iraq, Tuzmen said.

"We don't want Iraq to suffer fuel shortages. However, our companies' risks have exceeded US$1 billion and there's nothing we can say to them," Tuzmen said. "It is not possible for our companies to make any shipments under these conditions."

Tuzmen said he had been personally working to avert the halt of shipments for the past two months. The companies wanted to stop shipments earlier, but the minister convinced them to continue shipping the fuel through a four-day Muslim religious holiday last week "so that Iraq isn't left without fuel," Tuzmen said, reports the AP. N.U.