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Iraq to fuel generators to head off power protests

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) May 25, 2011
Iraq's government will provide free fuel to power generators nationwide throughout the scorching summer, it said on Wednesday, to try to head off another wave of protests over poor electricity supplies.

But officials admitted that no reliable estimates existed as to how much oil would be required, or how much such a project would cost, and a study would have to be carried out quickly to provide such data.

Earlier this year, Iraqis demonstrated across the country over a lack of improvement in daily life, while last summer many took to the streets to protest against a lack of mains power as the mercury topped 50 degrees celsius and many homes were unable to power fridges and air conditioners.

"The cabinet agreed that the oil ministry should provide government and local generators with fuel for free," Baghdad's oil ministry said in a statement.

"The minister said that the operators of generators should be obliged to operate them for 12 hours a day, with prices specified by provincial councils," the statement added, referring to Oil Minister Abdulkarim al-Luaybi.

The decision will apply nationwide, but there was no date given as to when it would come into force, or whether there was a defined end-date. At present, generator operators buy fuel at market prices.

An oil ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ministry would conduct a study immediately to compile an estimate of the number of generators, how much fuel would be required, and what the initiative would cost.

"We don't know how long this will take, but as soon as the study is done, the policy will start immediately," the official said.

Currently, electricity production and imports total about 7,000 megawatts, with demand around twice as much.

As a result, most Iraqis receive just a few hours of state-supplied power a day, and those who can afford it get added supplies from generators.

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

Iraq's entire electricity network -- from generation plants to hub stations and transmission lines -- took a beating during the 1980-88 war with Iraq, the 1991 Gulf War, more than a decade of UN sanctions that followed, and finally the US invasion in 2003 and the insurgent attacks that have followed.

Hussein al-Shahristani, the deputy prime minister charged with energy issues, said earlier this month that the power shortfall would not be made up until 2013.

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