Monday, June 14, 2004

Democracy, Whiskey...Electricity?

One of the primary goals for the Coalition Provisional Authority immediately upon taking control of post-Saddam Iraq was to bring electricity production back to pre-invasion levels and beyond before the start of the brutal summer. This was a well intentioned goal since abundant electricity is of tantamount importance to Iraqi society for a wide range of functions, from the operation of oil pumps that provide the life blood to the economy, to powering the ubiquitous air conditioners needed to combat the oppressively hot Iraqi summer.

As the CPA realized, returning electricity to pre-invasion levels would be crucial to providing order, stability and legitimacy to the interim government and beyond. Unfortunately for the CPA, electricity output goals have missed their targets by up to 30%.

As is reported in today's New York Times, "The United Nations estimated that before the war, Iraq could produce 4,500 megawatts of electricity at any given time. With the fighting and looting, the production capacity plunged wildly, before beginning to rebound.

Capacity has been stuck in a range around 4,000 megawatts for months. Not only is that less than during the Saddam Hussein era, but it is also far below the American promise of 6,000 megawatts."

The blame certainly does not reside entirely with the CPA, but on the other hand many of the problems are symptomatic of the broad misconceptions within the Pentagon and the White House regarding the way the invasion would be viewed by the Iraq population and, similarly, the likelihood of a robust insurgency. There was, and is, an insurgency that is greatly hindering efforts, and another familiar specter has raised its head in this context: the refusal to allow Iraqis to handle the reconstruction of Iraq, a task that they have a wealth of experience performing.

According to the article, "The reasons for the shortfall are both obvious and subtle. They include insurgents' attacks on plants and power lines, the harassment and killing of engineers, pullouts by companies doing repair work, and problems finding spare parts for outdated Iraqi equipment.

Some Iraqis also complain that Western engineers have been unable to grasp the complexities of a creaky electrical grid that is a patchwork of ancient Russian, German, Yugoslavian, Chinese and American equipment. The Iraqis say that the engineers, often Americans, reflexively reach for fancy new gear costing tens of millions of dollars that can take months or years to order, ship and install."

Now with summer fast approaching, and electricity levels still hovering below pre-invasion levels, the CPA is scrambling to increase output by mid-summer. Unfortunately, that date has been a moving target, and has been postponed numerous times already. With the handover of power scheduled for June 30, the CPA can only hope that they can provide the power behind the transfer to restore the confidence of the Iraqi people and help to quell the growing unrest.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?