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Baghdad's Fuel and Electricity Concerns

[For years, Iraqis have been suffering from days of power outages and long lines at petrol stations in the capital, Baghdad, as well as in some of the country’s provinces. Suffering civilians find themselves caught in a vicious circle of political finger-pointing and acts of terrorism.]

Two hours a day is Iraq’s average electricity supply, despite the bitter cold wave at the peak of winter. Gas stations have become synonymous with favoritism, and the black market is the most favorite for benefiting from the limited supply of gasoline that reaches the distributors.

The paradox is that the body responsible for this deteriorating crisis does not identify itself, and by not doing so, the official behind that body makes the problem more complicated. The electricity crisis situation has reached a level such that power outage has become the permanent preoccupation in the lives of Iraqis-- so much so that some small industrialists and professionals are forced to close their stores, businesses and factories, which directly rely on electricity. Some even prefer not to go to work to avoid troubles.

The Officials’ Reaction

The official spokesman of the Ministry of Oil, Asim Jihad, does not rule out the possibility that corruption at the distribution stations is one of the reasons for the problem. That was evident from the ministry’s dismissal of 1,600 employees in these stations due to their involvement in corruption. Other factors also reflect negatively on the distribution operations, such as the security factor, the impact of some forces [that he did not identify], which is a matter that the citizens bear its burden, he added.

Although high-level ministry officials have periodically given explicit promises to improve the power supply rates in recent years, the number of pre-programmed outage hours did not change. In justifying the outages, these officials say the crisis is due to the sabotage that the power distribution towers are facing, especially in areas north of Baghdad. Furthermore, the shortfall in gas and fuel supply [to the power plants], means a decline in energy production, compounded by endemic corruption cases in several government agencies.

The spokesman of the Ministry of Electricity, Aziz Sultan, confirms that the reason behind the continuing outages is the imbalance in the production of power plants scattered throughout the country, as a result of fuel shortage or acts of sabotage that these stations face in addition to technical flaws.

The Power Outage Crisis

But Iraqis are no longer able to adjust to the large and frequent interruptions in the power supply, which constitute a challenge for the population in a country where it is difficult to repair and maintain its crumbling infrastructure. This is taking place in the midst of car bomb explosions and security tension that moved the reconstruction process in Iraq off its track. The people of Baghdad complain that home electricity is only available few hours a day and they are forced to buy fuel from the black market to operate their private generators, or participate in private communal generators to get a small quantity of electricity.

The power outage dilemma causes Baghdad’s residents to rely on the local district generators, as well as on small-size generators for few hours a day, and the same at night. Some workmen such as tailors, barbers and owners of small industrial workshops, suffer from continuous and repeated interruptions of electricity; and since energy production through private means increases the cost, they are demanding a nightly power supply to the industrial zones during periods of declining domestic consumption.

The numerous infractions committed by some citizens and store owners on the national power network lines have had a profound impact on the lack of this vital service, since such infractions on others’ rights cause a disruption to a lot of electrical transformer. Furthermore, the lack of maintenance and repair teams adds to this problem, and if indeed such teams were available they would demand large payments for their maintenance and repair work.

Power malfunction is a problem that the Iraqi capital suffers from all year long. All studies indicate that irregularity in the power distribution impacts 93% of the capital as well as other regions.

al-Esbuyia, Iraq, March 2, 2008. The article originally appeared in Arabic and excerpts from the article were translated by the staff of www.memrieconomicblog.org

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