A bigger threat to Iraq than Al Qaeda? Power cuts.
The US and Iraq have spent billions on concrete blast walls and other measures to protect against insurgent groups, including Al Qaeda. But power cuts and rolling blackouts are feeding public discontent over a lack of electricity.
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Across the board and across class lines, Iraqis blame corruption for a lot of the power shortages.Skip to next paragraph
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At a concert in the garden of parliamentarian Safia Suhail on Monday night, Iraqi dignitaries and foreign diplomats listened to members of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra and traditional musicians in a symbol of the rebirth of Iraqi culture.
Between performances, news of the electricity minister’s resignation swept through the Iraqi crowd like wildfire.
“Is it true? Has he really resigned?” guests asked. “That’s the best news,” said one. “They should all be in jail,” said another.
“I’m very happy – he should have done this a long time,” said university professor Raghed al-Suhail. “We’ve been dying for seven years – they have to open the files of corruption at the Ministry of Electricity.”
Tikmachi waited months to be paid by Ministry of Justice
At the blacksmith’s shop in Karrada, Tikmachi says between the corruption, inefficiency, and electricity cuts it’s been almost impossible to do business.
He says he waited eight months to be paid for ironwork at a Ministry of Justice building after the bank kept telling him they had no cash in the account. He says he finally received a check for 4.25 million Iraqi dinars – about $3,800 – after a ministry finance official demanded almost $900 in payment for issuing it. When he raised it with the supervisor, she said there was nothing she could do because she was afraid.
“If there was constant electricity there would be stability,” Tikmachi says. “How many billions of dollars have been spent to provide concrete [blast walls]?”
"Our politicians are protecting themselves behind concrete from people who don’t have work.”
Few Iraqi products
Across the street, Khalid Mustafa relies on a small generator to keep the milk and soft drinks cold in his corner store.
“The electricity is here for an hour or 15 minutes or 10 minutes and then it goes out again,” says Mr. Mustafa. He buys electricity and fuel for his small generator for about $100 a month but the government recently has prohibited people from buying jerry cans of fuel at gas stations – a measure he describes as "open warfare" against the citizens.
The tidy shelves of Mustafa’s shop are stocked with everything from hair color and fake snow to toy guns and princess dolls – all of them are imported from Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and China. The only locally made products he sells are plain biscuits in cellophane wrappers.
“Up until the fall of Saddam we made all sorts of things – detergents, dairy products – but now there’s no electricity to run the factories,” he says.
'Our votes had no value'
The crisis in services has led to a lack of faith in the political process that just three months ago promised the allure of a representative government. Although the new parliament met in a symbolic opening session this month, political leaders have made no serious headway into forming a new government.
“I voted but I’ve regretted it since,” says Tikmachi. “Our votes had no value.”
Sahar Issa contributed to this report.
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