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Analysis: Iraqis without fuel, power

By BEN LANDO, UPI Energy Editor   |   Jan. 22, 2008 at 1:45 PM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- You can't have one without the other, but with many of Iraq's power plants shut and refineries stopped, Iraqis have neither fuel nor electricity.

Iraq's Electricity Ministry is blaming the Oil Ministry for cutting fuel supplies and Turkey for ending electricity imports.

The Oil Ministry says continuous power to its refineries will lead to continuous supplies of fuel.

"We hear a lot of promises but we see nothing," Baghdad resident Amjad Kazim told Gulf News. Blackouts and long lines at the fuel stations are increasing as subsidized, state-controlled supplies run dry and the black market boosts prices.

In Baghdad's neighborhoods, black market auto fuel prices have jumped by nearly 20 percent in the past week, according to IraqSlogger.com.

Various U.S. government reports show fuel supplies are half the target and the ministries are unable to make the needed capital investment.

Iraq suffered from extensive power outages last summer, but reports showed steadily increasing capacity and delivery of electricity through the end of the year. Now there are widespread reports of two hours of power a day through much of the country.

"We have not had electricity for a week now and it took me about four hours to buy fuel for my car," east Baghdad resident Jaafar Dhia Ali said in a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report. Winter has set in reaching below zero temperatures in Baghdad alone.

"There are 20 of us living in this house as I'm hosting my two displaced brothers' families," Ali said, adding the kerosene heaters are running close to empty but black market prices -- $1 per liter -- are too high.

Electricity demand is up and supply down from Jan. 9-15, according to the State Department's Iraq Weekly Status Report. "The average weekly supply was the lowest since January 2005 and the percentage of demand met was the lowest since at least December 2003."

The Electricity Ministry has for months pressed the Oil Ministry to deliver increased and more reliable supplies of fuel to operate the power stations.

"Oil and gas pumping from Kirkuk fields to our northern and southern plants over the past two weeks has stopped," Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz Sultan said in the U.N. report. "Furthermore, the decision on Jan. 4 by Turkish power provider Kartet to stop exporting electricity to Iraq is also to blame." He also blamed Kuwait not sending needed fuel for the power plants.

Kartet said in a statement Iraqi fuel for a power station in Turkey had been stopped, prompting their cuts.

"We are doing our best," said Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad. He blamed a power-plant outage for the lack of power needed to keep oil production in operation.

"We cannot be blamed for this shortfall," he said. "Once there is a stable power supply we will have uninterrupted oil and gas production."

From Dec. 24-31, according to the State Department report, the supplies of heating and auto fuels were 42 percent to 67 percent short of the supply target.

And the amount of oil products diverted to the black market was 21.5 million barrels in 2007, though that's a drop by more than half since 2006, according to the global energy information firm Platts. It did account for $1.4 billion in lost revenues last year.

Last week attackers showed their continued success, taking out towers and stations in Baghdad, Baiji and Kirkuk, which cut power from Baghdad and other areas to the north and west.

"Pylons and lines damaged in these areas cannot be repaired," Sultan told the Azzaman newspaper, because it's not safe enough for workers, long a target of insurgents, to enter the areas needing to be fixed. Sultan called on the United States to provide better security.

At least 1,211 workers in Iraq's power sector have been killed, according to an assessment from March 2003 to Nov. 17, 2007, made for United Press International by an expert in threats and vulnerabilities to the energy sector worldwide.

There have been 651 attacks on distribution and transmission lines and towers, 66 attacks on thermal power stations, five on hydroelectric power stations and 13 on power substations in that timeframe.

The oil sector has seen similar attacks, including 635 workers killed.

A new government plan will boost security, under the direction of the Defense and Interior ministries, and move infrastructure to areas of Iraq more secure and less violent, Azzaman reports.

Iraq's government, under the watch and guidance of the U.S. government, has been unable to cut through bureaucracy -- let alone deteriorating security conditions -- and build the institutional capacity to spend the annual billions of dollars dedicated to capital improvements.

The White House says Iraq's central government improved its capital budget spending to 24 percent through the first 6.5 months of 2007; the ministries of Oil and Electricity spent 21 percent and 26 percent of its capital budget, respectively.

But Finance Ministry figures passed on by the U.S. Treasury Department say spending has decreased, not increased, to 0.01 percent for the Oil Ministry and 0.004 percent for Electricity Ministry, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The report, intending to look at progress in capital spending from 2006 to 2007, concluded the varying data prevented it from determining any success.

Iraq's new and evolving government, supported since 2003 by the United States, has stuck to sectarian squabbling.

Movement in the energy sector is hampered by fights over control of the oil, a fight that bleeds into other wedge issues.

But on Tuesday, Parliament approved a new Iraqi flag that removes symbols some associated with Saddam Hussein. The Voices of Iraq news agency reports 110 of the 275-member Parliament were absent.

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(e-mail: blando@upi.com)

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