Electricity Production in Iraq Remains Below Pre-War Levels

Contrary to US President George Bush’s recent statement that electricity in Iraq “is now more widely available than before the war,” Iraqi officials say the power supply in their country has not yet been repaired to pre-war levels. Bush made the claim in his May 1, 2004 speech commemorating the one-year anniversary of the “mission accomplished” address he delivered from aboard the USS Lincoln.

Twelve months later, it appears as though the majority of Iraqis have seen little improvement in their power supply. At the Al-Dora power station in Baghdad on May 3, the deputy manager of the plant, Bashir Khalaf Omair, said that electricity output in Iraq prior to the March, 2003 invasion was around 5,000 Megawatts (MW) a day.

Iraq’s Acting Minister of Electricity, Ra’ad Al-Haris, said in an interview Thursday that the current supply of electricity produced in Iraq measures between 3,600-4,000 MW.

Currently, even in the best neighbourhoods of Baghdad there is only twelve hours of electricity per day, and this only intermittently. Most areas of the city have between six and eight hours of power per 24 hours.

Baghdad resident Salam Obidy is frustrated by the unreliability of the electrical grid. “I have three hours on, and four hours off,” he said. “Mostly it is completely unscheduled. Yesterday I spent all night not sleeping because it was so hot.”

And it is only getting hotter. The temperature during the day in Baghdad is beginning to approach 100 degrees now. It consistently climbs to 110-120 degrees in July and August.

In the Al-Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, a man named Abu Talan also complained about the lack of electricity in his neighbourhood. “My family and I sometimes have thirteen hours with no electricity whatsoever,” he said. “Usually we average six hours per day. If there is no fuel for our small generator, we all suffer.”

According to deputy manager Omair, Iraq has suffered from a shortage of electricity since the 1991 Gulf War during which American pilots bombed power plants. He added that prior to the 1991 war, Iraq was producing 9,500 MW of electricity per day.

“The parts we need come from Italy and Germany,” Omair said, “and the security situation has made it more difficult to get these imported.”

In addition to sabotage of gas and transmission lines in Iraq, as well a shortage of supplies, the reconstruction problems in Iraq have been underscored by the mass exodus of foreign contractors.

“Bechtel is responsible for the rehabilitation here,” Omair explained. “The companies they subcontracted to, Siemens and Babcock, have pulled out their engineers. Without their presence, the Iraqi companies Al-Marjal and United Company, have been unable to do as much work.”

Companies that were working on many of the electricity projects include U.S.-based Seimens-Westinghouse, Bechtel, and General Electric, along with two Russian companies, Tekhnopromexport and Inter Energo Servis (IES), according to the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity.

Yet, according to Al-Haris, the acting electricity minister, many of these companies began departing Iraq prior to the invasion in March, 2003 — well before the most recent round of exits caused by the deteriorating security situation under the U.S. occupation.

“The work in these stations was started during the past regime,” Al-Haris said, “but it was stopped before the war when the companies left Iraq, and the work is still stopped.” Al-Haris added, “There are tens of trucks stopped on the border of Turkey, Jordan, and Syria, and they cannot enter because of the bad security situation. All the equipment in the trucks is very important to continue our work.”

He reported that another problem is the huge consumption of electricity in Iraq and the huge quantity of electrical consumer goods people are buying. He said, “The annual increase of the consumption of the electricity in the entire world is about 3-5 percent, but in Iraq it is 30 percent.”

Both officials stated that the goal they have promised the people of Iraq is to provide 6,000 MW by July 1.

Acting Minister Al-Haris said, “We hope that the companies will come back to Iraq to continue their work soon. We received promises from them, and I hope that the program of work will remain [in place], as we are promising the people 6,000 MW [a day by] the beginning of July. Anyhow, 6,000 MW is not enough for the country because we are expecting the need will be about 7,000-7,500 MW.”

“Even if the German engineers who were working in the Al-Dora power plant returned tomorrow,” said assistant plant manager Omair, “they would need four to five months to get our remaining two generators online.”

When asked if he thought the goal of generating 6,000 MW for Iraq by the first of July was possible, Omair said, “I hope so.”

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.