Iraqis in Baghdad protest against poor services and high unemployment, July 2018. File photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has suggested cutting off electricity to Baghdad’s Green Zone, home of the Iraqi parliament and foreign diplomatic missions, to force officials to take action on Iraq’s ramshackle electricity network.
Among a blistering set of recommendations issued on Twitter
on Sunday, Sadr suggested “cutting off electricity for officials, especially those in the Green [Zone], so they can feel the plight of the people, not extending an emergency line to their houses but to hospitals, schools, and some important bureaus.”
Sadr, whose Sayirun alliance is the biggest bloc in the Iraqi parliament, said empty talk of improvements to the electricity grid is a “mockery” of ordinary Iraqis.
Iraq finds itself in the grip of unseasonably hot weather, with temperatures already reaching 48 Celsius (118.4 Fahrenheit) in Baghdad this week. August is typically the country’s hottest month.
Protests erupted in the south of the country in the summer of 2018, centering on the oil-rich province of Basra. One of the principal grievances was the shortage of electricity to power air conditioners and other infrastructure.
State repression of the protests resulted in dozens of deaths and contributed to then-Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s removal from office.
Iraq’s incumbent Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and his electricity minister Luay al-Khateeb both claimed in late May that electricity improvement projects were making progress
These improvements are not being felt in Iraqi homes, however, and protests
have once again sprung up in several cities.
Sadr, a firebrand cleric who regularly leads protests against state corruption, also suggested “cutting off the hands” of militias and parties in control of the Ministry of Electricity and power stations, and called for the sector’s nationalization “with Iraqi hands” – not external “occupying” firms.
Here Sadr was referring to the $15 billion deal with America’s General Electric
struck in October 2018, and the $14 billion four-stage deal to improve the country’s electrical infrastructure signed with German giant Siemens
Abdul-Mahdi has announced the formation of a body to monitor the power grid and to “minimize hurdles and resolve emergency cases”, according to a statement
from the PM’s office on Sunday.
Sadr went a step further, calling for the formation of an investigative committee to examine the “rampant corruption” in the electricity sector.
Iraq imports 1,300 megawatts of electricity per day from its eastern neighbor Iran
, as well as 28 million cubic meters of gas to feed some of its power stations.
If improvements are not felt soon, electricity shortages could prove the undoing of Abdul-Mahdi’s short-lived administration.
The Hikma Front, led by Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, announced on Sunday it will officially become the parliament’s first opposition bloc
, while Amjad Hashim al-Iqabi, a Sayirun MP, claimed his colleagues will soon remove
the PM from office.
Iraq’s highest Shiite religious authority, Ali al-Sistani
, has also upped the pressure on the PM to deliver on his pledges.
Abdul-Mahdi, an independent technocrat with no party bloc of his own, may be called before MPs to face questions over his leadership.