Junior’s Ongoing Wreckage

After 4 years, electricity still luxury: Iraqi struggles endure despite billions spent
By James Janega, Tribune staff reporter. Nadeem Majeed in Baghdad contributed to this report
Published June 25, 2007

BAGHDAD — Surviving without electricity in the simmering Baghdad summer poses an unwelcome choice for 22-year-old Ferrah al-Caisy.

With the limited amperage of her family’s generator, she can use their second-rate air cooler to battle temperatures pushing 120 degrees, or she can switch on the pump to pull water to their fourth-floor shower.

But neither the timid cooler nor the tepid water really cools her off, she says, and it takes full-blown city power to run an air conditioner — a forgotten luxury now that electricity is available barely two hours a day.

“Sometimes I cry, I swear,” she said as a fan churned hot air through her apartment. “This stuff? It doesn’t help that much, you know.”

This is about as good as it gets for Baghdad residents, who have waited four years since the U.S. invasion for the lights to come back on — and will have to go on waiting into the foreseeable future.

Under pressure to find an endgame for American involvement in Iraq, U.S. officials ordered a surge of troops to open the broad offensive last week against insurgents. At the same time, officials are wrapping up once-ambitious efforts to restore Iraq’s electricity, far short of original goals.

The U.S. is within months of exhausting its $4 billion reconstruction fund for Iraq’s electrical sector, meaning the end of American efforts to underwrite what had been the signature reconstruction mission of the initial occupation.

Nowadays, when American electrical advisers in Baghdad discuss projects to “generate capacity,” they refer not to new power plants but to training Iraqis to take over the complicated rebuilding effort.

Fuel problems, sabotage, regional disputes and overdue maintenance dogged the first months of 2007, contributing to average generation of 3,877 megawatts of power, less than the estimated 4,300 megawatts produced before the war. Though outlying provinces gained more electricity than they had under Saddam Hussein, feeble production and surging demand have meant far less for Baghdad, and it is reliable nowhere.

Within the next year, fixing the problem will fall to Iraq’s government ministries. And under the best of conditions, Electricity Minister Karim Hasan says, it will be years before supply reaches demand — 2010 at the earliest.

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