Iraq’s main oil export terminal was hit by sabotage yesterday, delivering a further blow to the interim government just two weeks before the official transfer of power.
In the second attack on vital oil supplies in two months, insurgents also attacked two oil pipelines in southern Iraq, cutting exports from the south by half, officials said. The oil price surged a dollar a barrel following news of the bombings which are keeping up the pressure on the occupying powers.
But anger against the US has swelled more in the heat of the summer because of sabotage of the electricity supply, which is still worse in the capital than it was under Saddam Hussein.
“I can’t believe that the Americans can equip an entire army here but don’t bring in spare parts for our power stations,” said Kamal Zein al-Abadin, a shopkeeper.
Even poor Iraqis own some form of air conditioning but as the temperature soars to 120F they have been receiving only 12 hours a day of electric power. Everybody is affected. Thieves flourish where there are no street lights. Computers and televisions flicker off at inconvenient moments. Meat and vegetables cannot be stored.
While writing the first three paragraphs of this article, the mains electricity has gone off twice, although fortunately the hotel where The Independent has its office owns a powerful generator which has just roared into life. Ahmed al-Rikaby, who runs a popular talk radio station called Radio Dijla, said: “So many of our callers want to complain about the lack of electricity that I am thinking of calling our station Radio Electricity instead.”
The shortage of power is sometimes a matter of life and death. One man phoned Radio Dijla in tears to say that his three-year-old daughter had just died because of the heat. An hour later another listener arrived at the radio’s office to donate a generator to the family of the dead girl. American officials protest that their failure to provide electricity is explained by systematic looting and sabotage as well as obsolete power stations. They have a point.
On Monday three electrical engineers working for General Electric and two of their guards were killed when their convoy was blown up by a suicide bomber in the heart of Baghdad. Last week, saboteurs blew up a fuel line leading to Baiji power station north of Baghdad. Blazing fuel melted the overhead power cables, and fear that the fire would spread to the station itself forced its closure. Russian technicians working at two power stations, one at Dora and the other at Musayyib, were ambushed twice, and three of their men killed, after which they pulled out. Knowing that the failure to supply enough electric power is seen by Iraqis as a symbol of American failure in Iraq, insurgents have made carefully planned attacks on the whole system. Their efforts are supplemented by looters carting away pylons and cable for their scrap value.
Before the war Baghdad got 20 hours of electricity a day. Now supply sometimes falls to eight hours. This is partly because the capital is no longer favoured over other parts of the country. Power stations are now producing 4,100 megawatts of electricity while 7,000 are needed.