Thursday, July 1, 2010

Electricity Protests Continue In Iraq As Government Attempts To Crackdown On Theft

In June, 2010 Iraqis began protesting against the lack of electricity during the scorching summer. These demonstrations have continued in new areas of the country. On June 26 people 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.

SOURCES

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

2 comments:

Verizon said...

Hey, it's worth noting that Electricity production has actually increased, it's above pre war levels (according to UN and US figures). But demand increased as well, so the electricity ministry is trying to fill in an ever-growing hole.

Joel Wing said...

Yes, you can see a chart of the increasing power output and demand here:

http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.com/2010/06/iraqi-government-makes-first-attempt-to.html

The problem is, if Iraq continues to develop the demand will also continue to go up. Some analysts have speculated that even if Iraq gets all the new power plants and generators on line that they plan, by the time that's done, demand will have gone up as well and Iraq will be no better with providing steady power to its people than before.