An aerial view of the Daura power station in Baghdad December 28, 2005, part of an electricity network which is struggling to cope with the city's power demands. The U.S. military said on Wednesday Baghdad was getting an average of only six hours of electricity a day, down from 11 hours in October, largely because of insurgent attacks on power lines.
Baghdad is getting only around six hours of electricity a day, down
from 11 in October, and attacks on Iraqis working on U.S.-backed reconstruction
projects are at a record, the U.S. military said on Wednesday.
December was the worst month for such attacks, said Brigadier General William
McCoy, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Six Iraqi contractors were
killed, five wounded and two kidnapped in 32 assaults across the country.
"It's been a pretty bad month," McCoy said.
Haphazard electricity supply is one of the main gripes of Baghdad's six million
inhabitants. It frequently cuts out, making it difficult for people to work
and leaving them cold in winter and hot in summer.
At night, private generators are the only source of power. Most Baghdad households
rely on lamps or candles for light and kerosene heaters for warmth.
Iraq's U.S. backers vowed to improve supply this year to satisfy demand but
have failed, partly due to a shortage of high-quality fuel for generating plants
and partly due to attacks from insurgents who want to drive the Americans out
of the country.
Meanwhile, more and more Iraqis are buying fridges, air- conditioning systems
and televisions, forcing demand even higher and putting the creaking system
under ever greater strain.
McCoy said Iraq now needed 7,200 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity to meet
its needs, up from 4,800 MW at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"We can put almost 7,100 MW on line in the country today," he told
reporters. "The problem is that at any one time, 2,800 MW of that is off-line
for maintenance, and that's largely because of terrorist attacks."
The Americans say most of Iraq now gets around 13 hours of electricity a day
but Baghdad, home to nearly a quarter of the country's population of 27 million,
remains a problem.
"We got up to around 11 hours in October, but we're down to around six
hours a day now," McCoy said.
As head of the engineers corps, he oversees over 3,000 infrastructure projects
funded from the $20 billion the U.S. government set aside for reconstruction
after the invasion.
MONEY AND DANGER
Although many construction contracts go to U.S. and other foreign firms, most
of the on-site workers are Iraqis, who risk their lives for the relatively high
wages on offer.
The price of protecting workers has soared.
"When we did the initial planning it was relatively peaceful and we thought
security would account for about nine percent of total cost, but it's turned
out to be around 18-22 percent," McCoy said. "Security has been expensive."
The reconstruction of Iraq has been problematic from the outset and some Iraqis
suspect a sizeable chunk of the money the U.S. government set aside for rebuilding
has being squandered or lost to corruption.
In January, a report into mismanagement by the Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA), the U.S.-led body which ran Iraq after the invasion of 2003 until June
2004, concluded the CPA failed to adequately safeguard $8.8 billion of Iraqi
money and, as a result, left it open to fraud and kickbacks.
The CPA "was burdened by severe inefficiencies and poor management,"
concluded the audit, written by Stuart Bowen, the U.S. Special Inspector General
for Iraq Reconstruction.
U.S. authorities say lessons have been learned since then and the rebuilding
of Iraq from the rubble of war and decades of neglect under Saddam Hussein is
finally gaining pace.