Thursday, August 23, 2007

Power Failure in Baghdad

The New York Times today reports that the power grid in Iraq is crumbling and increasingly at the mercy of armed militants:
BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 — Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.
That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.
This alarming admission was elicited from the electricity minister at a briefing on how the U.S. presence is bringing modern conveniences to Iraq.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.
But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.
Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials
have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.
But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.
This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair.

It has been 1,575 days since President Bush announced the end of major combat operations under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished.,” and Iraq’s government cannot deliver electricity to the country’s capital.
The proponents of the war and the surge like to style themselves as hard-headed realists, but what can they offer in terms of realistic expectations that the presence of an additional U.S. troops will improve conditions on the ground?

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