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IRAQ: Baghdad’s Green Zone also to suffer electricity blackouts

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Officials living in the Green Zone will have to endure the same electricity shortages as other Iraqis following a decision to ax their special privileges in the wake of violent protests over prolonged power outages.

Acting Electricity Minister Hussein Shahristani, who is also the oil minister, announced the measure today at his first news conference since taking over the electricity portfolio Wednesday after the resignation of the previous minister.

“We have made the decision to cut all exceptional supplies of electricity for officials, starting with the Green Zone, as well as other [official] neighborhoods in Baghdad,” Shahristani said.

The last week saw widespread protests across the country over the chronic shortage of electricity in Iraq, as temperatures soared to 120 degrees. Two people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators in Basra and several people were injured in demonstrations elsewhere.

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Until now, government officials who live in the fortified Green Zone and other specially guarded compounds for VIPs have enjoyed up to 24 hours of electricity a day, while ordinary Iraqis swelter in the heat with only 2-6 hours of power.

But Shahristani warned that there was no “magic wand’ to solve the crisis. Although the measure will help increase overall supply, the improvement will not be dramatic, he said.

Many Iraqis want to know why their government has been unable to provide adequate electricity despite the investment of billions of dollars in reconstruction in the seven years since the U.S.-led invasion.

Shahristani said the problem is that although overall supply has increased, demand has grown even faster.

The protests have highlighted popular dissatisfaction with the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and with the slow pace of negotiations to form a new government after parliamentary elections in March.

Nadeem Hamid and Liz Sly in Baghdad


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