The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, still suffers irregular electricity flow. Each district in the capital has to live without electricity for at least six hours a day.

 

The situation is in stark contrast with what happened after the 1991 Gulf War which left the main Iraqi electrical power stations in ruins.

 

It took the then Iraqi government three months to restore electricity to its pre-war level.

 

"The Iraqi government used to import heavy equipment along with spare parts enough for three years in advance. Warehouses were built far away from electrical power stations, so this extra equipment survived the 43 days of bombing" said Imad Khadduri, the Iraqi nuclear scientist who worked for Iraq's nuclear programme from 1968 to 1998.

 

When the war ended in 1991 the nuclear programme came to a halt and all its engineers and technicians were moved to organisations assigned to rebuild the country's infrastructure. "We managed to restore electricity in only three months",  he said.

 

However this time there are a different set of problems preventing the US authorities in Iraq from restoring Iraq's electricity production.

 

"There are actually many obstacles." Khadduri told Aljazeera.net.

 

"First of all, Iraqi power plants are German, Russian, and French made, but the US are insisting on assigning technicians from the US company Bechtel to assess Iraq's electrical power stations. Second, they are insisting on buying equipment from Bechtel, while the main stations in Iraq are not made in USA."

 

"They are not making use of the experience Iraqi technicians possess in their own country's infrastructure."

Imad Khadduri, Iraqi nuclear scientist

He said the US authorities were not allowing Iraqis to ask technical assistance from the companies that built their electrical stations, allegedly because they belonged to countries that opposed the US war on Iraq.

 

Khadduri blames US companies for angering Iraqi technicians and engineers by employing Asian labour, while Iraqis are jobless, "They are not making use of the experience that Iraqi technicians possess in their own country's infrastructure."

 

They are neglecting them and bringing in foreign labour. It costs a lot of money and wastes time in training them to understand the nature of Iraqi electrical power stations", he said. 

 

US companies' domination  

 

Al-Dura power plant is Baghdad's main electricity supplier. After developing one of the plant's four turbines, maintenance was stopped on the outbreak of war in March 2003, according to Aljazeera reporter in Baghdad Abd al-Salam Abu Malik.

 

While the necessary maintenance equipment was imported before the war the work has not resumed. An Iraqi engineer and subcontractor in Iraq spoke to Aljazeera.net on condition of anonymity.

 

"There is equipment which was imported before the war, it is already in al-Dura electrical power station in Baghdad, but the Americans want a fresh bidder for the rehabilitation of the station."

 

The US authorities in Iraq announced in late January that contracts worth of 5.6 billion dollars would be granted to US companies to reconstruct Iraqi power stations. The US companies Bechtel and the Perini Corporation have already won contracts worth one billion dollars to rebuild Iraq's electrical network.

US Army helicopters fly over
Baghdad as smoke rises from Dura

 

Darkened homes

 

People in Iraq are buying electricity for their homes from certain electricity dealers, who installed huge generators in every district and started selling electricity to people who can pay, knowing that 60-70% of the Iraqi work force is unemployed.

 

Aljazeera reporter in Baghdad Mahmud Abd al-Ghaffar says there are about five million jobless Iraqis out of Iraq's 24 million people.

  

Nasrin Abd al-Rahman, 35, an Iraqi Kurd who lives in Baghdad told Aljazeera.net: "I have to pay a lot of money in order to keep my house lit, my children hate darkness and they have homework to do every evening".

 

We are victims of the US forces and people who are fighting them, whenever a US base is attacked, Baghdad is plunged into darkness, and helicopters start hovering all over the city" she said.

 

"We've started to suspect that they punish us by cutting the electricity after each attack on them."

 

Powerless factories

 

Disrupted electrical power has affected the industrial sector in Iraq as well. Many small and medium factories were closed because of no access to electricity supplied by the country's national electricity provider.

 

An Iraqi businessman in Dubai who owns several businesses in Baghdad and the United Arab Emirates told Aljazeera.net:

 

"I had to buy a generator for each factory I own in Iraq, but that did not help. Generators need gasoline, and gasoline is rare in Iraq", Ziad Hathal said.

Black market for petrol in Iraq

 

He said that even businesses that managed to survive were operating under difficult circumstances.

 

"I've had to shut down the carpentry and furniture factory I own. It is useless to produce at such a high cost. But I can keep my ice factory operational because of the high demand on ice, because of the lack of electricity in houses, hotels, restaurants etc." Hathal said.

 

"But that does not mean it is easy money, because water from the national provider is also gone, so I have two major problems to handle everyday, to get pure water and gasoline from the black market which is not an easy job at all."

 

Syria and Turkey are currently supplying Iraq with additional power, while Iran, Kuwait, and Jordan are due to follow in July providing 100, 200, and 150 megawatts respectively.

 

Meanwhile, many Iraqi experts say rehabilitating Iraqi power stations to meet Iraq's demand for electricity requires not less than two years and several billions of dollars.