As daytime temperatures soar above 50 degrees Celsius across much of Iraq, protesters have taken to the streets in several of the country’s cities to vent anger over power cuts that are disrupting their lives. Iraq's electricity ministry says Iran has stopped supplying electricity on all four lines that help power Iraq's grid, demanding that Baghdad pay billions of dollars it still owes Tehran.
Protesters gathered in front of the closed gates of an electricity substation in the city of Kut to decry power cuts that have left them with just several hours of electricity a day amid a heat wave scorching the country.
A young man wearing a baseball cap told Iraqi TV that the situation in Kut has become intolerable. He said that electricity was available only for two hours a day at a time and was unstable even for most of that period. He claimed that even the governor of Kut has fled the city and has not been back for months.
Iraq's electricity minister presented his resignation to Prime Minister Mustafa Khadhimi earlier this week. Electricity Ministry spokesman Ahmed Moussa Abadi told Iraqi TV that there are a number of causes for the electricity cuts, among them Iran's cutting major power lines that supply Iraq's grid:
He said that terrorist attacks on power lines, shortages of fuel to supply power stations and unfair distribution of power on the grid are major causes of the electricity cuts. Electricity coming from Iran, he added, was completely severed on all four lines Tehran supplies to Iraq.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reports that Tehran is demanding $4 billion in unpaid bills from Iraq to resume service on the four lines.
Iraqi media report the country’s central bank is unable to pay Iran the money due to U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. VOA could not independently confirm the reports.
Muthanna Tamimi, governor of Diyala province, told a press conference that terror attacks are also a major factor in recent power cuts.
He said that terrorists have been trying to cut high tension wires between various parts of Iraq and blow up electricity pylons to disrupt the lives of Iraqis, especially during the current heat wave.
Iraqi analyst Bassem al Khazaji told Arab media that "it is something of a joke that Iraq produces so much oil and gas and still doesn't have enough electricity." He said that the problem started in 2003 and that "Iraqis have been protesting electricity shortages off-and-on each summer since 2011.”
Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told VOA that energy shortages have been more acute in the south of the country this year than in the north:
"Southern Iraq is where most of the electricity problems are this year. The north does not rely on Iran, as much as the south....and Kurdistan has newer and more efficient plants that are run a lot better."
"Electricity," he added, "has been a cause for conflict, dissent and insurrection for decades."
"Electricity is vital for the state to function," he stressed, "and it is not just for air conditioning, but for lighting, communications, refineries, petrol stations, and most importantly water treatment and water movement."