Minister wants much more funding for power sector

Iraq needs at least US$4 billion in 2008 to allow swifter rehabilitation of its battered power plants nationwide, Electricity Minister Karim Wahid said on 19 February.

People across the country have been suffering extended power cuts since the US-led invasion in 2003 with all sectors of society affected, including hospitals, orphanages and schools. Expensive generators are an inconvenient and costly stop-gap, if available at all.

“We have asked the government to allocate US$4 billion in the 2008 budget to our ministry to rebuild the power network, instead of $1.4 billion. We need $1.5 billion to repair power stations and $2.5 billion to buy new ones,” Wahid said.

According to Wahid, Iraq's 27 million people need 9,500MW of power daily to meet their minimum requirements, but current production was about 4,000MW per day.

He said Iraq was importing 150MW per day from Iran to cover some of Diyala Province's needs.

"Baghdad is getting only 1,000MW instead of the 2,500MW it needs as its power stations are not producing electricity because the eight oil and gas pipelines that supply them have been destroyed," Wahid told a press conference in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

Sabotage

Wahid blamed attacks by armed groups on power stations and employees for the ministry’s failure to distribute the required amount of power to all parts of the country.

"Armed groups have been threatening to kill employees in distribution centres if their neighbourhoods face power cuts," he said.

Iraq’s power sector suffered from serious under-investment under Saddam Hussein's regime before being heavily battered by the US-led invasion of 2003 and subsequent sabotage by insurgents.

Attack on gas pipeline

The latest setback was on 11 February when a bomb struck a gas pipeline in northern Iraq and caused widespread power outages that lasted a week, a police officer and a gas company engineer said.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release information.

The explosion devastated a section of pipeline near Tikrit, about 130km north of Baghdad, one of a series of recent attacks in an apparent show of power by suspected Sunni insurgents who have been driven north by US-led crackdowns in Baghdad and surrounding areas. The pipeline provides fuel to power stations in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Beiji, they said.

“Ministry of Generators”

“The government should establish a Ministry of Generators instead,” said Mohammed Abdullah, who pays about 120,000 dinars (about US$100) a month to the neighbourhood generator operator.

"Everybody knows the officials have been giving us false promises and have been procrastinating over the past few years, and actually they are doing nothing, as we depend on neighbourhood generators," Abdullah, a 33-year-old father of two said.

“In the best circumstances we get only two to four hours of electricity from the national grid a day,” he said.

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