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Iraq province to cut supplies to national grid

by Staff Writers
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Jan 18, 2011
Iraq's northern Kirkuk province said it would stop supplying electricity to the national grid on Tuesday, in a bold move to force the central government's hand in a dispute over power rationing.

"Kirkuk province has decided to cut the power going out from its electricity stations to other provinces and to keep the power for the province until the ministry of electricity does something about our power cuts," provincial governor Abdulrahman Mustafa said Monday.

Officials said the procedure of cutting the province off from the national grid would be completed by Tuesday evening.

National Deputy Electricity Minister Aamer al-Duri confirmed the cuts were coming into force, describing them as "illegal." He said a ministry delegation had been sent to Kirkuk on Tuesday to resolve the dispute.

"Kirkuk is not the only province which suffers from power cuts," he told AFP. "It's the same for all provinces like Baghdad, Nineveh and others."

Iraq's power supply remains drastically short of demand, with homes and businesses nationwide suffering daily cuts and relying on generators to fill the gap, as the war-ravaged country struggles to boost capacity.

Kirkuk's provincial council threatened last summer to cut itself from the grid, calling on the ministry of electricity to increase the province's electricity allotment from 180 megawatts to at least 300 megawatts.

The province's three power stations produce around 500 megawatts of electricity, with the majority of that being sent to Baghdad, Salaheddin and Dohuk provinces.

"It is like a camel that carries gold but eats only roots," said Mohammed Khalil al-Juburi, a member of Kirkuk provincial council, comparing what the province was supplying to what it was receiving in return.

Yaljin Mehdi, the head of electricity distribution for the province, said the decision to cut off from the national grid would result in Kirkuk receiving all 500 megawatts produced internally.

Iraq's electricity demand totals around 15,000 megawatts, compared with total supply of 7,000 megawatts -- 6,000 megawatts produced locally, and 1,000 megawatts imported.

A senior US embassy official said on Monday that for Iraq a "big challenge going forward is the race to provide infrastructure and services to the populace and keep pace with expectations."

"We know come next summer, there's still not going to be enough megawatts online to provide 24-hour electricity -- it's just not in the cards," he said at a briefing for foreign press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We saw riots last summer... that's a concern."

Angry Iraqis staged violent demonstrations last summer in several southern cities over power rationing as temperatures reached 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose electricity minister resigned in the wake of those protests, warned in June that two more years of shortages lay ahead as there was no quick fix to the problem.

Iraq's infrastructure was devastated during the 2003 US-led invasion and more than a decade of sanctions that preceded it.

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