Thursday, July 11, 2013

More Hollow Promises By Iraq’s Electricity Ministry 

For months now the Electricity Ministry and various officials have claimed that the country’s chronic power problems would be solved by the end of this year. As part of this process every couple weeks the Ministry announces a new power plant being opened or additional generators being installed. The faults with the authorities’ claims are many. Neither the public nor other elements of the government are accepting the Ministry’s claims as a result. This is a basic problem with Baghdad, it can’t keep its promises, which undermines its standing, and is holding back the rebuilding of the nation.

Each month the Electricity Ministry goes to the press about one of their new achievements to help prove that they will end Iraq’s power problems by the end of the year. On July 6, 2013 for instance, Electricity Minister Abdul Karim Aftan was at the opening of a new 330-megawatt power station in Wasit’s Zubaydah. At the ceremony Aftan promised that the electricity crisis would be solved by the close of the year. Similar statements have been made by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Deputy Premier Hussein Shahristani who is in charge of the country’s power strategy. Ministry officials have gone as far as to say that private generator operators would have to sell their equipment for scrap this year. The government wants to reach 13,000 megawatts by this summer, 20,000 megawatts by 2014, and 22,000 megawatts by the end of 2015. Currently, officials claim that they are providing 15-16 hours per day to Baghdad, 16 hours to Basra, Ninewa, and Dhi Qar, 24 hours to Tamim and Maysan, and 16-20 hours to the rest of the country. These are typical statements by the Ministry and government. For years now it has said that it is just around the corner from ending the power outages, and meeting the public’s demand for electricity. The country has signed dozens of contracts to build new plants and install new generators. The problem is that these promises have never been met, and the Ministry is no close to achieving its goals today. That’s leading to increasing cynicism by the public and local governments.

The fact that people are not buying the Electricity Ministry’s story is apparent all over. A local official in Diyala’s Muqtadiya said that there would be major power shortages during the summer months, and that would affect other services throughout the province like the water supply. A parliamentarian from Basra called for protests over the lack of electricity, and blamed Minister Aftan for the problems. New Sabah interviewed a number of people who were happy that businessmen did not sell their private generators as the Electricity Ministry called for, and said that the government was just making election year promises. Finally, there have been demonstrations in Nasiriyah since the start of June over the power problems. These are just the latest signs of discontent with the government. There have been demonstrations off and on since 2011 over the country’s difficulties supplying enough power. It’s because the Electricity Ministry has consistently failed to achieve its own goals that whenever it makes promises that it’s met with such skepticism.

There are signs that the Ministry is in trouble already. On July 9, the cabinet cancelled its regular agenda to address the electricity problem. It decided to set up a committee to deal with the issue, while admitting that not enough power was being generated. Two days before Iran and Iraq came to an agreement that the former would increase electricity imports by 150 megawatts. This was despite the fact that the Electricity Ministry claimed that power imports would end by this summer. July 1, an adviser to the prime minister contradicted his boss by saying that power supply would not meet demand until 2015. That’s actually the date set in the Ministry’s own 5-year plan. That same day the Ministry noted that the Oil Ministry was not cooperating in delivering fuel to power plants, and that it was losing 1,100 megawatts in production as a result. A spokesman said that a total of 2,200 megawatts had been lost, some tenders for new projects had been cancelled, and one plant actually shut down for lack of spare parts. Finally, in June the Ministry revised down its own production target from 13,000 megawatts this summer to 11,000. Everyone from the cabinet, to the prime minister’s adviser, to the Ministry itself acknowledges that its plans are behind schedule. Its own development plan says that it is two years away from meeting demand, and that’s questionable as well.

The government faces major structural problems, which will hinder any strategies it has to address the electricity shortages. The first is that it is not appropriating enough money. The Electricity Ministry’s 5-year plan calls for $31.8 billion in investment. In 2011, the budget only gave it $3.2 billion, and it only spent 33% of that. The difference could have been met by attracting foreign capital, but Baghdad has failed in that department. Second, the Ministry is poorly run with bad management, and a lack of capacity. It doesn’t have trained staff, it has a bad decision making process, and its workers are inefficient. That hampers the implementation of projects and contracts, hinders the proper usage of generators leading to less power being produced, and plants being kept up to optimum standards. Third, the Ministry’s development strategy calls for natural gas to supply power plants. Its own predications however, believe that only 50% of the required gas will be available within five years. That means heavy fuel will be used instead, which erodes equipment quicker and raises costs. Fourth, the national grid is poorly constructed, which leads to more than 1/3 of power production being wasted before it even reaches consumers, the highest rate in the Middle East. Finally, there is no check on usage. Most Iraqis don’t pay their bills, and the government has been giving out free power to the poor and subsidizing the rest. That means that demand is not static, and even if the Ministry were to reach its targets there’s little chance that it would meet usage by that time. There are no real plans to address these issues. All the government is focused upon is boosting output. That has gone up over the years, but will never meet demand unless these larger issues are taken care of.

Iraq is years away from reaching its goals when it comes to electricity. Nine years of failures, and Baghdad still claims that everything is on tract, and that there will be no more blackouts in just a few months. 2013 is no different. The Electricity Ministry’s own 5-year plan contradicts its statements. The public and local officials are fed up with this state of affairs, and protest and complain about the lack of performance more and more. This is hindering the development of the country, because businesses and services can’t run without a steady supply of power. It also undermines the standing of the government, as people are unwilling to listen to one that consistently fails to deliver on its promises.


Abdullah, Ali, “Minister of Electricity and again: the end of the current year will be the end of the darkness in Iraq,” Buratha News, 7/6/13

Buratha News, “Local administration in Muqdadiyah expects a major crisis in the coming days to the lack of processing the national electricity,” 6/30/13

Dananer, “Electricity aimed the ball on the oil and accuses the loss of 1,100 MW,” 7/1/13

Jawad, Haider Ali, “After the false promises of improved electricity .. Cabinet cancels its agenda and its fully allocated to discuss the deterioration of the reality of power, fearing the wrath of the street,” Buratha News, 7/9/13

Al-Mada, “Electricity: our output rose (6500) MW for 2003 and we still need (4200) MW extra,” 6/14/13

New Sabah, “Calls for demonstrations and demands for better electricity in Basra,” 6/26/13
- “Citizens grateful owners for not selling generators,” 6/23/13
- “”Electricity” processed “Dhi Qar” for 16 hours ..And the people continue to demonstrate,” 6/15/13
- “Increase the share of “Dhi Qar” of electric power,” 6/19/13

Press TV, “Iran to up electricity exports to Iraq,” 7/7/13

Radio Nawa, “Chief adviser to Maliki: Iraq’s electricity crisis will end early 2015,” 7/1/13

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/12

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