After promises, the heat is on in Iraq
By Abdu Rahman and Dahr Jamail
BAGHDAD - Iraqis promised development with the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the
arrival of the United States are now suffering lack of development as never
before. And where it hurts every moment is through the collapse of power
More than seven years into the US occupation, most Iraqis lack electricity,
leading to demonstrations in towns and cities across the country.
"The big problems began in 2003 with the occupation of Iraq," 61-year-old
Hashim Mahdi told Inter Press Service (IPS) in Baghdad. "The occupiers
destroyed all the institutions and the country's
infrastructure, including power plants. More than seven years later there is no
Like other Iraqis, Mahdi agreed there had been infrastructure problems before
the US occupation, due to Iraq's war with Iran, and then the US bombing
campaigns throughout the 1990s that targeted power plants. But after those
attacks, the former regime was able to get the electricity supply restored.
The problems since 2003 have been far worse.
"Why did the government not reform the power plants until now? I think the US
commander in Iraq exploited the crisis to put pressure on Iraqi politicians,"
Mahdi also blames corrupt local politicians for the problem.
"The electricity ministers appointed under the occupation are inexperienced and
incompetent. They allow corrupt officials in the department to steal the funds
allocated for importing generators and repairing transmission networks," he
The lack of reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq's water infrastructure
and power grid has been devastating to farmers and city dwellers alike.
Ahmed Jihad, 35, owns a generator business in Baghdad. He told IPS, "The
problem of electricity has existed since the US occupation of the country
began, but I hope to help people have one hour of electricity per day now. With
rising fuel costs, though, we are all suffering."
The average family income in Iraq is US$200 to $300 a month and families are
paying an average of $80 of that to the government for an electricity supply
that hardly ever comes.
The many Iraqis who need fuel for their generators run into another problem.
"It is difficult to bring fuel into our areas because of the checkpoints at the
entrances to cities and neighborhoods. The Iraqi security forces make things
hard for us, demanding bribes to allow us through. Besides, the fuel is not
clean and of poor quality so it damages the generators."
Others complain about the price of electricity. "Under Saddam, electricity
costs were a pittance," Um Taha, a 30-year-old mother of four told IPS. "But
with the US coming in, none of us can afford their prices."
Abdul Wahab is a chief technical engineer at an electricity distribution
station in northeastern Baghdad.
"Since the US occupation we have suffered from a lack of spare parts for the
station. We do not believe there is any intention or genuine effort to repair
or upgrade the outdated equipment," Wahab told IPS.
"All that the government provides are false promises," he said.
Ongoing security problems complicate the repair work as well. "Our maintenance
teams face access problems because of bombings, road closures, traffic chaos
and concrete walls, which caused the closure of many streets in Baghdad and
other cities," he explained.
June 14 was the hottest day ever recorded in Iraq, with the maximum temperature
reaching 52 degrees Centigrade (125 degrees Fahrenheit) in Basra. And most of
the country's residents had to suffer through it with no air-conditioners, no
refrigerators and no fans.
Two Iraqis were killed by the police in Basra in June while protesting against
the power shortages. The deaths, and ongoing protests over the summer, prompted
Iraq's electricity minister Karim Waheed to resign.
"Because Iraqis are not capable of being patient in their suffering, which
would be alleviated by the projects I mentioned that will eliminate the
shortages of electricity, and as this matter has been politicized on all sides,
I am declaring in front of you, with courage, my resignation," Waheed said in a
televised address on June 21.
Abdu Rahman, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration
with Dahr Jamail, our US-based specialist writer on Iraq who reports
extensively on the region.