Monday, August 03, 2015

120 degrees and no relief, looting and mismanagement cripple the power grid in Iraq

NYTimes |  Iraqis have been complaining about electricity at least since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. In the resulting security vacuum, widespread looting, which American troops had no orders to prevent, dismantled much of what had been left of the electricity grid, already eroded by years of sanctions and war.

“Maku kahraba! Maku amn!” were the complaints leveled by pretty much all Iraqis to any American they came across back in those first days of the American occupation. “There is no electricity. There is no security.” In that order.

Iraqis in Baghdad had been used to a fairly reliable supply of electricity. Mr. Hussein had kept the capital disproportionately supplied, with few power failures. It was different in the southern provinces, where residents are predominantly from the oppressed Shiite majority, which had risen up against Mr. Hussein in 1991 and was brutally suppressed. Many areas there got only a few hours of power a day.

American occupation officials evened out the supply all over the country — making it more equitable but also shocking residents of Baghdad who were suddenly subjected to the long powerless days that other Iraqis had been used to. The cuts were also new and enraging to people in the Sunni heartland in the north and west, the fulcrum of Mr. Hussein’s residual support and of the brewing insurgency against the occupation.

Among the failures of the American administration of Iraq was the inability to meet repeated promises to get the electricity back up to the levels under Mr. Hussein. Occupation officials put out charts trumpeting modest improvements.

But a combination of insurgent attacks, incompetence and corruption kept the system struggling, both then and after political power was nominally handed to an Iraqi government in 2004. The problems have continued since American troops left in 2011.

More than once, Iraqis sleeping on their rooftops to keep cool have been killed by stray gunfire.
Many Iraqis have air-conditioners in their homes, but during power cuts only some can afford to pay for generators. Those who can must often scale back to fans and simple air coolers because there is not enough power for air-conditioners while on generator power, and sometimes even when on the regular grid.

So the lucky ones drive around in their cars with the air-conditioning on, visit shopping malls, or wait for the air coolers to switch on and huddle around them in a single room. Those without that wherewithal find cool where they can, sometimes swimming in dirty, sewage-tainted pools and canals.

Help is on the way, though, from Iran, which gained significant influence in Iraq after the fall of Mr. Hussein and the end of the troubled American involvement.

According to Iran’s state-run Press TV, in the country’s biggest engineering services deal ever, an Iranian company recently signed a deal to add 3,000 megawatts to the grid by building a $2.5 billion power plant in Basra. It will be supplied by a pipeline carrying Iranian natural gas.