Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

Iraq’s electricity ministry subjected to political meddling, minister says

Luay Al Khateeb faces unenviable task of reforming the country’s shattered power system

A man checks the wiring on electric cables in Saadoun Street, Baghdad, reaching out to homes in the Iraqi capital. AFP
A man checks the wiring on electric cables in Saadoun Street, Baghdad, reaching out to homes in the Iraqi capital. AFP

Iraq’s electricity ministry is facing “political interferences” that are preventing it from reforming the country’s shattered power sector, its head, Luay Al Khateeb, said on Sunday.

The ministry is facing daunting political challenges such as the threat of renewed protests against poor public services, which erupted last Friday in the southern city of Basra, and escalating US pressure on Iraq’s energy supplier Iran.

“The political interferences of some of the ministry’s affairs was one of the most significant challenges that we have faced, making the ministry vulnerable to the public which impacted their opinion,” Dr Al Khateeb said in a statement that announced the ministry’s achievements.

The 51-year old energy expert assumed office in October with a mandate to rebuild the country’s shattered power sector, which was destroyed by ISIS and the aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Dr Al Khateeb has previously warned against “politicising” the ministry.

Last summer, constant blackouts sparked violent protests in southern Iraq that soon spread across much of the country – one that cost the old electricity minister his job.

The minister explained that a lack of understanding of the nature of the work in the ministry has become a strain on its development.

“The challenges faced by the new administration is the lack of understanding of the nature of the work in [the] electricity sector and the need to achieve timely deadlines,” Dr Al Khateeb said.

Moreover, the US has been pushing Iraq to end its reliance on Iranian electricity, which currently accounts for about 35 to 40 per cent of Iraq’s power.

Washington granted another waiver to Baghdad this month to continue importing crucial Iranian gas needed by the central government.

Without the Iranian gas, Iraq would lose supplies to run generators and blackouts would become more common.

With the long, hot summer just starting, Baghdad fears that a loss of Iranian supplies could lead to instability.

The ministry carries the burdens of the 2003 invasion and the consequences of the previous government’s policies, the minister explained.

Many politicians say that Dr Al Khateeb has one of the toughest jobs in Iraq.

“Despite financial and technical challenges, the ministry has prepared a promising plan for 2019 with an increase of 25 per cent of the production capacity (up to 3,500 megawatts) compared to last year,” he said.

The ministry is developing solar power, gas-capturing capabilities and energy deals with neighbouring states such as Iran.

It signed contracts worth 700 million euros (Dh2.93 billion) with Germany’s Siemens last month, amid expectations of similar deals with American rival General Electric earlier this year.

“Over the next four years, Siemens will add 11,000 megawatts to the production system as well as the development of a national transportation network,” the minister said.

Updated: June 25, 2019 10:36 AM

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