Iraq approves $927m for power projects
Baghdad, June 13, 2011
Iraq's cabinet approved $927 million in financing for electricity generation projects on Sunday in a move by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to defuse simmering public anger over chronic power outages.
The funds cleared by the cabinet followed a complaint by Electricty Minister Raad Shallal that his ministry had not been allocated enough financing to tackle what is one of the biggest complaints of ordinary Iraqis.
More than eight years after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and triggered years of war and sectarian conflict, Iraqis are only receiving a few hours of power a day from the national electricity grid even though the country has some of the world's biggest oil reserves.
Iraqi officials said the $927 million would go towards installing and putting into operation gas turbines purchased under multibillion-dollar deals made in 2008 with General Electric and Siemens.
'Now we have the money, we can talk to the companies,' Deputy Electricity Minister Salam Qazaz told Reuters.
The turbines are expected to add nearly 9,000 MW of capacity to a country starved of power after decades of conflict, sanctions and economic decline.
Iraq's war-battered national grid is expected to supply less than half of the country's 15,000-MW peak demand this summer as temperatures head to levels above 50 degrees Celsius.
Qazaz said the government was also in talks with France's Alstom <ALSO.PA> about a deal to install four gas turbines of 180 MW each.
Thanks to higher oil prices, Iraq has earned 34 per cent more in crude revenues than originally budgeted in the first five months of this year.
In a cabinet meeting last week that was televised live, Shallal had pointedly asked Maliki that these some of these surplus funds be allocated as a priority to power projects.
Since February, Iraqis encouraged by the popular protests sweeping the rest of the Arab world have staged demonstrations demanding improvements in public services and in the food ration and calling for an end to corruption.
A 100-day period set by Maliki for his ministers to find solutions to the main complaints of citizens ended last week without many visible signs of improvements.
This has increased pressure on the prime minister's fragile cross-sectarian coalition as it also considers whether to ask some US troops to stay in the country beyond an end-year deadline for their withdrawal.
Although violence has fallen in recent years, there are still daily gun and bomb attacks.-Reuters