Thursday, January 20, 2011

Electricity Protests Spread To Northern Iraq

Protests against Iraq’s troubled electricity network have spread to the north. In Tamim province there was a street demonstration against the lack of power. The governor also announced that electricity produced locally would be used for the governorate’s own use, rather than be sent to Baghdad. Tamim joins seven other provinces that have complained about the troubled power network in the last several months.

Angry Iraqis blocking the Kirkuk-Baghdad highway over the lack of electricity

First, on January 17, 2011 people in the city of Prde blocked the highway between Kirkuk and Baghdad to protest the spotty electricity supply. They set tires on fire, and threatened on coming traffic with rocks, shutting down the route for a period of time. The local mayor tried to convince the demonstrators to go home, but rocks were thrown at him as well, which led the police to fire into the air to try to stop them. According to AK News around 600 people took part in the event.

That same day, the Associated Press reported that Tamim’s governor was diverting power from a local power plant meant for Baghdad. Governor Abdul Rahman Mustafa Fatah said that the Taza power plant’s output was no longer going to the capital, but would rather be used for Tamim itself. He claimed talks with the Electricity Ministry over sharing the power from Taza had failed, which led to his action. A Ministry spokesman, however, claimed that the negotiations had been inconclusive, and that it was willing to give 200 additional megawatts to the province if the governor agreed to the deal. Members of the provincial council added that they were trying to put off protests, but its actions came to late to stop the demonstration in Prde.

The events in Tamim were the latest in a series of complaints against the troubled power system. Earlier in January Wasit’s provincial council announced that it was refusing to pay the Electricity Ministry’s new power bills that doubled rates. In October 2010 Karbala rejected the new prices as well. That followed protests in Basra, Dhi Qar, Anbar, Diyala, and Wasit that lasted from June to August. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki secretly banned any further demonstrations, and there was a lull that also coincided with parliamentary elections and the protracted government formation process. It now appears public anger is spreading to new provinces. That creates a catch-22 for the capital. On the one hand, the government needs to impose a new system that raises funds and controls consumption. On the other, it can’t do that until it improves supply. Currently, most Iraqis don’t pay their bills because supply is so bad, but have increased demand every year. While it’s nice to see Iraqis using their new found freedoms to demand better services from the authorities, unless Baghdad is able to find some kind of compromise their authority and the energy network may be undermined by rebelling provinces.

SOURCES

Abdul-Zahra, Qassim and Barjanji, Yahya, “Northern Iraqi governor cuts Baghdad power,” Associated Press, 1/17/11

Zangan, Jamshid, “Sit-in strands hundreds on Iraqi Highway,” AK News, 1/17/11

No comments: