Protests erupt across Iraq as power outages intensify crisis
Iraq is witnessing widespread protests against rampant power cuts across several parts of the country amid scorching summer temperatures. On Friday, hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets in southern provinces including Wasit, Maysan, and Al-Kut against power outages as the mercury soars to 50° Celsius in the country.
Earlier this week, protestors blocked highways in the oil-rich city of Basra in order to pressurise the local government to address the crisis of power cuts in the region. Increasing political pressure due to widespread demonstrations also forced Electricity Minister Majed Mahdi Hantoosh to submit his resignation last month. Responding to the protests, the Electricity Ministry cited various reasons for the blackouts, including shortage of fuel at electricity stations and terrorist attacks on power lines.
“Someone is trying to destabilize the country and sow chaos,” Ahmad Moussa, electricity ministry spokesman, had said during a televised address. In addition, Baghdad has alleged that only a few consumers are paying their utility bills, while a majority of them are stealing electricity by illegally altering lines with the power mains.
On Friday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi issued a statement, announcing emergency measures to address the issue of repeated power outages in the country. He stated that a committee would be formed to assist and support the electricity ministry with the aim of tackling any form of interference with the power systems.
“Electricity is a basic need. Its shortage is a violation of many human rights, including the right to health, safe housing, education and others,” said an official of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights.
As per media reports, Iran has halted its power supply to Iraq due to failure in paying the bills that have resulted in more than $6 billion in arrears. Amid economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the Tehran administration has been pressuring the Iraqi government to release payments in order to settle the unpaid bills and resume the power supply. However, Iraq has maintained that it is unable to send money to Iran due to US sanctions on money transfers to the neighbouring country.
Notably, Iraq, the second-largest oil producer in OPEC, has been struggling to overcome its electricity problems, particularly during high temperatures in summers, for several years now. While many governments have promised to resolve the crisis, internal corruption and political rifts have only intensified power outages and troubles for the public.