Iraq’s electricity minister has resigned as protests erupt in Basra over the crippling shortages
Provinces across Iraq’s south have halted work amid scorching temperatures and rolling blackouts, after Iran halted a crucial supply of power, pushing the country’s energy crisis to breaking point.
Iraq’s electricity minister Majed Mahdi Hantoosh submitted his resignation this week as temperatures soared to 50 degrees in southern districts like Basra where protests have erupted against the crippling shortages.
It came as cash-strapped Iran, whose gas and electricity imports often meet as much as a third of Iraq’s power demands, drastically curtailed the energy supply to its neighbour, likely in an attempt to pile pressure on the government for outstanding payments.
Iraq currently owes Iran billions of dollars for gas and electricity exports which it has struggled to pay because of the country’s crippling economic crisis and US sanctions on Iran.
Iran is, i mellomtiden, suffering from its own energy shortages and outages.
An official within Iraq’s electricity ministry in Baghdad told Den uavhengige on average across the country there were as many as 18 hours of power cuts a day, impacting homes, hospitals and businesses.
He said there were pre-existing problems but the loss of the input from Iran made the crisis significantly worse.
“,” Ayad Khalaf, from southern Al-karkh Distribution Company, fortalte Den uavhengige.
“The resignation of the minister is not the solution," han la til .
Outputs from four cross-border electricity tie-lines from Iran to Iraq were at zero on Tuesday, according to Ministry of Electricity data seen by Associated Press. The total cuts began this week, a ministry official told the American news wire.
“Gas imports from Iran range from 1.5-1.8 billion cubic feet per day,” Yesar al-Maleki, Gulf analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey told the AP.
“ Now, we see generation in the south collapsing below 1 (gigawatt), meaning not just these lines are offline but even gas flow is down.”
Iran feeds gas into Iraq through two pipelines used to power plants in the southern provinces of Basra, Samawa, Nasiryah and Diyala. Generation from these plants also plummeted, suggesting supply from Iran in these plants is also low.
The impact has been immediate.
In Basra, the province requires 4,000 megawatts during the summer but is currently receiving 830 MW, according to AP.
Across federal Iraq, electricity demand goes up to 20,000 – 30,000 MW during Summer but this week was only receiving around 12,500 megawatts, Sajad Jiyad of The Century Foundation told Den uavhengige.
“We’ve never met demand, we have always had blackouts and generators but now it is very severe,” said Iraqi analyst adding that most places have only four or five hours a day of power from the national grid per day.
“It is the beginning of a summer of discontent that harks back to 2018. I think we’ll have more protests kick off very soon especially if we have another Covid-19 lockdown. If people are stuck at home with no power it will only lead to more anger.”
In Basra, residents told Den uavhengige in areas there was no power at all and tensions were simmering.
“Most families are relying on private generators if they can afford it,” one local journalist told The Independent.
“We have protested and protested but no one is listening,” said an activist who also declined to be named, fearing backlash from the state.
As a precaution several of the worst hit provinces like Najaf, Diwanieh and Diyala shortened working hours so they operate from 8am to 12pm to help citizens cope with rising temperatures. Basra has done the same and local residents told The Independent the governor also announced an official holiday on Wednesday and Thursday due to the heat.
There are concerns if the crippling shortages continue there will be a repeat of the wave of unrest seen in 2018 which resulted in the resignation of the then government. Those protests also coincided with Iranian power cuts over non-payment issues.
Due to US sanctions, Iraq is unable to directly pay Iran for the imports. Instead there is a scheme whereby Iraq pays for goods, medicines and other expenses for Tehran’s diplomatic mission and Iranian companies working in Iraq. For eksempel, Iraq recently paid for vaccines.
However Iran has complained that these payments are not happening quick enough.