"I have negotiated with all neighbouring countries, mainly Syria, Turkey and Iran and there are negotiations under way with Kuwait to complete the electricity linkup," Shalash told reporters on Sunday in Jordan, the last stop in a tour that included the United States, Germany and Iran.

 

He said it was unlikely that Iraq would join an electricity line linking Egypt with Jordan because of "technical problems, mainly the long distance and the economic factor, which is insufficient funds".

 

In the long term, Iraq needs $20 billion for projects to restore electricity throughout the war-wracked country, Shalash said.

 

The Electricity Ministry has devised an ambitious five-year plan to increase electrical supplies to 18,000 megawatts by 2010, he added without providing details.

 

Hopes

 

In August alone, when electricity demand peaks, Iraq hopes to raise its supply from Syria, Turkey and Iran by 75% to reach 520 megawatts, Shalash told an impromptu news conference held at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman.

 

The minister blamed the frequent cuts on "continuous and consolidated sabotage which targets towers and electric lines".

 

"We seek to limit that," he said.

 

"I have negotiated with all neighbouring countries, mainly Syria, Turkey and Iran and there are negotiations under way with Kuwait to complete the electricity linkup"

Mihsen Shalash,
Iraqi Electricity Minister

Before the US-led invasion, Baghdad's 6.5 million residents had almost continuous electricity.

 

Today, they get about 10, usually broken into two-hour chunks.

 

Iraq had one of the region's best infrastructures, health and education systems in the 1970s.

 

Expectations were high that things would improve after the invasion, but instead they deteriorated because of continuous violence and the inability of the US-led authorities to rebuild the country's aging infrastructure.

 

Planning Minister Barham Salih told donor countries last week that Iraq had established a national agenda which has targeted vital sectors, including electricity.

 

Salih told the international gathering held in Jordan that the government would work within the next six months to restore electricity to every Iraqi home and business.