Iraqi PM warns of two more years of power supply problems

Jun 22, 2010 02:00 AM

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned demonstrators who have held bloody protests across southern and central Iraq that there was no quick fix to the country's power supply problems. Maliki said it would take another two years at least to bring new power plants on stream and gave his backing to beleaguered Electricity Minister Karim Wahid whose resignation offer he said he was still considering.
"Frankly nobody should expect that the electricity problems will be solved for another two years because the power stations being built by Siemens and General Electric will take two years to complete at least," he said.

The premier insisted Wahid remained the best qualified person in Iraq to deal with the challenges of boosting its generation capacity and said that he wouldn't be bounced into accepting his resignation by the protests which have seen one demonstrator killed and 19 people wounded recently.
"His resignation letter is still on my desk. I will look into it," Maliki told a Baghdad news conference of the electricity minister, who is regarded as a close ally of the premier even though he describes himself as an independent. "It isn't true that I asked him to tender his resignation," the prime minister said. "I don't know anyone in Iraq who is more capable than he is at the technical level."

Maliki recalled the problems of sabotage that Wahid had to contend with in the Iraqi electricity distribution network, with repeated attacks on power lines by insurgents.
"He was dealing with terrorism day after day," the prime minister said. Maliki's defiant backing of his minister and blunt admission that an end to draconian power rationing remained a long way off contrasted with the fears expressed by others in his cabinet that street violence might escalate through the summer without swift action to improve supply.

Public anger with the work of the Electricity Ministry has boiled over as temperatures in central and southern Iraq have hit highs of 54 degrees Celsius. With Iraqis receiving power for just one hour in five, or less, from the national grid, only the few with access to their own generators and fuel have been able to refrigerate foodstuffs or air-condition their homes.
Hundreds of angry demonstrators pelted stones at riot police guarding the Dhi Qar provincial government headquarters in the southern city of Nasiriyah, putting 17 of them in hospital, including a lieutenant colonel, a security official said. Police in the main southern city of Basra killed one demonstrator and wounded two when they opened fire on a frenzied crowd throwing stones at provincial government offices.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned the Basra protest could be a harbinger of more trouble as prolonged "bickering" over who should be Iraq's next prime minister sparks mounting discontent among ordinary people more concerned by the lack of basic services. In his resignation offer on state television, Wahid charged the demonstrations had been "politicized" in a way that was damaging to resolving power generation problems.
"In the difficult circumstances that Iraq is going through, politicizing the issue won't solve it, it will complicate it," the minister said.

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