took to the streets of Kut in Wasit province against the lack of power. Two days later there was a march in Baquba, the capital of Diyala. There, people demanded better services, complained about the Electricity Ministry, and called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down. These protests followed similar ones in Basra, Dhi Qar, and Anbar.
In response, the government has taken a three-pronged approach. First, the Electricity Minister was sacked and his job temporarily given to Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani. He released money and fuel to the provinces to boost electricity output, called on generator operators to not increase prices during this crisis, and said that government officials in the Green Zone would not get special power outlays. At the same time he ordered Ministry officials and the security forces in Basra and Baghdad, Iraq’s two largest cities, to crackdown on those that are illegally tapping into the power grid.
The spread of electricity protests across Iraq can only be worrisome news for Baghdad, while its responses are not likely to quell them. Iraq has had power shortages since 1991 when the U.S. led Coalition knocked out most of the network during the Gulf War. Iraqis were told that the American attacks, followed by over ten years of United Nations sanctions, then the 2003 invasion, and ensuing insurgency were responsible for the chronic shortages. With security finally improving however, these excuses no longer hold weight, and people want to know why there is no consistent power output after billions have been spent to fix it. That has led to the demonstrations, which caught authorities off guard. The government’s responses are unlikely to end them. All of Shahristani’s actions could’ve happened years ago, and cutting off electricity to those that are stealing it, while legal can only make more people angry while temperatures are so high. If Iraqis continue to go out in the streets and vent their anger, that could be very problematic as politicians are currently caught up in the struggle to name a new prime minister rather than actually running the country. When they finally take office, they could face a public with no patience, which could create a real crisis of confidence and undermine the new government.
Alsumaria, “Iraq removes electricity violations on network,” 6/28/10
Aswat al-Iraq, “Kut people demonstrate protesting electricity,” 6/26/10
Eye Media Company, “Major Campaign to Reduce Electricity Theft in Basra,” 6/28/10
Juhi, Bushra, “Electricity-starved Iraqis’ obsession: generators,” Associated Press, 6/26/10
Zair, Karim, “’Electricity’ Protests reach Iraq’s restive Province of Diyala,” Azzaman, 6/28/10