Iraq has had severe problems with its electrical system since the U.S. invasion. The infrastructure was seriously degraded under years of sanctions, and since 2003 has been under attack by the insurgents. Iran has stepped in to try to supply its neighbor with power. Providing electricity is meant to tie the economies of the two countries closer together, but recent events in Basra have shown that it can also be used for political pressure.
The Associated Press reported on June 23, 2008 that Iraq had cut electrical supplies to Basra in more than half since the government launched operations there in March 2008. The city’s power supply went from almost 24 hours a day before, to as low as 6 hours per day now. Iran claims that it is having technical problems, but Iraqi officials say it is retribution for the government’s crackdown on Iran’s ally the Sadrists. The drop in power in the city is also turning some residents against the government as they’ve been promised improved services since the offensive, which have yet to be delivered.
Since the U.S. invasion Iran has been helping Iraq with its power shortages. Iran provides electricity to many parts of Iraq including Diyala province and Kurdistan. Iran is also working to improve the power system. In 2007, Tehran announced plans to build an electrical plant in Baghdad worth $150 million, and another in southern Iraq. Iran is also building electrical lines between the two countries. In March 2008 new power stations constructed by Iran were opened in Najaf and Karbala, and a few months later Iran signed contracts to build nine power transmission lines.
Iran’s economic role in Iraq is a doubled edged sword. Much of Iraq is in desperate need of electricity. In January 2008, the Electricity Minister said that there had been no improvement in the system in the last year, and that there would be no major changes until at least 2011. The summer of 2008 was expected to be an especially bad one for Iraq’s citizens. Iraq then, has welcomed Iran’s offer to provide electricity, build power plants, transmission lines, etc. At the same time, Iran has built up enough dependence that it can now wield it as a weapon against Maliki’s government. Beginning in Basra, the prime minister has systematically moved to wipe out his main opponent, the Sadrists, which are supported by Tehran. In retaliation, Iran has cut the power supply to Basra. This could undermine the security gains, because the public was already blaming Baghdad for the lack of basic services. With Iran cutting electricity, that criticism has grown, and shows Tehran’s multi-faceted influence in the country when most press coverage has focused upon its military role.
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