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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Iraqi leader suspends electricity minister amid power cuts

Protests have swept cities in the long-neglected south over widespread electricity outages

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has suspended the electricity minister. Reuters
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi has suspended the electricity minister. Reuters

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi suspended his electricity minister on Sunday amid continuing protests over poor public services especially power cuts and rampant corruption, the premier's office said.

It said in a statement that Mr Abadi had also ordered an internal government investigation into Electricity Minister Qassim Al Fahdawi's role in the deterioration of utility services. There was no immediate comment from Mr Al Fahdawi.

Protests have swept cities in the long-neglected south over widespread electricity outages during the blistering hot Iraqi summer, a lack of jobs and proper government services, and pervasive graft, according to Reuters.

On Saturday, Mr Abadi sacked five local election officials after they were charged with acts of corruption during the May 12 parliamentary election.

Public anger is mounting at a time when politicians are struggling to form a new government after a May 12 election that was marred by allegations of fraud, prompting a recount.

Since the ousting of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has allocated in state budgets a total of $40 billion to rebuild its power network, according to official figures, AFP said.

But households continue to get only a few hours of electricity a day as some of the funds appear to have been embezzled.

Mr Abadi, who is seeking a second term in office, is heading a fragile caretaker government for the time being.

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Read more:

Iraq to put election officials on trial over fraud in May's poll

Beyond the Headlines podcast: Iraq protests threaten long-sought stability

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The ministry of electricity has been a key one in previous administrations.

At least two previous electricity ministers have been accused of corruption, including over fake contracts worth millions of dollars.

In 2010, one of Mr Al Fahdawi's predecessors, Karim Wahid, resigned after a wave of protests across central and southern Iraq against draconian power rationing.

These shortages have forced Iraqis to buy electricity from private entrepreneurs who run power generators that can be seen on most street corners.

Electricity consumption has gone up in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Hussein, as Iraqis make more use of household electronic equipment, including computers and mobile phones.

Iraqi officials say that a drop in oil revenues means less money in state coffers to rebuild the country's infrastructure. They also criticise Iraqis who they say are not paying their utility bills.