Population hit by acute power outage, shortage of petroleum products

Iraqis are once again facing days of power outages and queues hundreds of metres in length at petrol stations in parts of 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 sabotage attacks.

The Iraqi electricity ministry has blamed the oil ministry for not providing sufficient fuel to run its generators. The oil ministry has blamed the electricity ministry for failing to provide its refineries with an uninterrupted power supply.

"Oil and gas pumping from Kirkuk fields to our northern and southern plants over the past two weeks has stopped and furthermore the decision on 4 January by Turkish power provider Kartet to stop exporting electricity to Iraq is also to blame," Aziz Sultan, electricity ministry spokesman, said.

He added that sabotage attacks by militants had hampered efforts to distribute electricity. "Three bombs over the past two weeks have targeted the power lines that connect northern provinces with each other and with Baghdad," he said.

In a statement Kartet said that it had stopped supplying electricity to Iraq because Iraq had stopped supplying it with refined fuel for its power station near the border.

The oil ministry has stated that it cannot produce fuel without power and has called on the electricity ministry to continue providing uninterrupted electricity to its oil and gas fields.

"We are doing our best," Assem Jihad, oil ministry spokesman, said. "A power outage at IT1 power plant in Kirkuk has led to a decline in the [oil and gas] production in our northern fields," Jihad said. "We cannot be blamed for this shortfall. Once there is a stable power supply we will have uninterrupted oil and gas production.”



Photo: IRIN
Generators are still the main source of power in Iraqi homes

Impact on Baghdad

Officials in Baghdad said that ministries, particularly the Ministry of Health, had about a month’s supply of fuel in reserve for such situations and could supply their respective institutions with electricity from an "emergency line".

Dr Ahmed Nasser Yassin of al-Yarmouk hospital, one of Baghdad's most renowned hospitals, told IRIN the hospital was still running normally and so far had not been affected by this latest power shortfall.

"Everything is going normally and smoothly in the hospital… We have our own big generators and fuel supplies, which will be sufficient for nearly a month, and we also have cooking gas. However, if this situation persists for longer we will be badly affected," he said.

Exceptionally cold winter

Pressure on the country's fragile power grid and demands on fuel products have been increased by an exceptionally cold winter. Recent Baghdad temperatures have hit a low of -4 degrees Celsius.

"We have not had electricity for a week now and it took me about four hours to buy fuel for my car. Meanwhile, our kerosene for heaters is running out,” said Jaafar Dhia Ali, 44, who lives in east Baghdad.

"There are 20 of us living in this house as I'm hosting my two displaced brothers' families. We three are all government employees [on low salaries] and can't afford to buy from the black market," Ali, a father-of-six, added.

Little kerosene is available on the state-run market at the subsidised price of US$0.14 a litre but on the black market it sells for more than US$1 a litre.

"We need at least 10 litres a day to stay warm which means that we need to pay US$300 a month for fuel," Ali said.

sm/ar/ed