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Originally published August 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 5, 2007 at 2:05 AM


Iraq's national power grid nearing collapse

Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging...

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Iraq's power grid is on the brink of collapse because of insurgent sabotage, rising demand, fuel shortages and provinces that are unplugging local power stations from the national grid, officials said Saturday.

Electricity Ministry spokesman Aziz al-Shimari said power generation nationally is only meeting half the demand, and there had been four nationwide blackouts over the past two days.

Power supplies in Baghdad have been sporadic all summer — when average daily temperatures reach between 110 and 120 degrees — and now are down to just a few hours a day, if that. The water supply in the capital has also been severely curtailed by power blackouts and cuts that have affected pumping and filtration stations.

Karbala province south of Baghdad has been without power for three days, causing water mains to go dry in the provincial capital, the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Electricity shortages are a perennial problem in Iraq, even though it sits atop one of the world's largest crude-oil reserves. The national power grid became decrepit under Saddam Hussein because his regime was under U.N. sanctions after the Gulf War and had trouble buying spare parts or equipment to upgrade the system.

One of the biggest problems facing the national grid is the move by provinces to disconnect their power plants from the system, reducing the overall amount of electricity being generated for the entire country. Provinces say they have no choice because they are not getting as much electricity in return for what they produce, mainly because the capital requires so much power.

"Many southern provinces such as Basra, Diwaniyah, Nassiriyah, Babil have disconnected their power plants from the national grid. Northern provinces, including Kurdistan, are doing the same," al-Shimari said. "We have absolutely no control over some areas in the south," he added.

"The national grid will collapse if the provinces do not abide by rules regarding their share of electricity. Everybody will lose and there will be no electricity winner," al-Shimari said.

He complained that the central government was unable to do anything about provincial power stations pulling out of the national system, or the fact some provinces were failing to take themselves off the supply grid once they had consumed their daily ration of electricity.

Najaf provincial spokesman Ahmed Deibel confirmed today that the gas turbine generator there had been removed from the national grid. He said the plant produced 50 megawatts while the province needed at least 200 megawatts.

Compounding the problem, al-Shimari said, there are 17 high-tension lines running into Baghdad but only two were operational. The rest had been sabotaged.

"When we fix a line, the insurgents attack it the next day," he said.


Fuel shortages are also a major problem. In Karbala, provincial spokesman Ghalib al-Daami said a 50-megawatt power station had been shut down because of a lack of fuel, causing the entire province to be without water and electricity for the past three days.

He said sewage was seeping above ground in nearly half the provincial capital because pump trucks used to clean septic tanks have been unable to operate due to gasoline shortages. The sewage was causing a health threat and contaminating local crops.

Many people who normally would rely on small home generators for electricity can't afford to buy fuel. Gasoline prices have shot up to nearly $5 a gallon, Karbala residents say, a price that puts the fuel out of range for all but the wealthy.

Iraq has the world's third-largest proven oil reserves, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran. But oil production has been hampered by insurgent and saboteur attacks, ranging from bombing pipelines to siphoning off oil. Dilapidated infrastructure has also hindered refining, forcing Iraq to import large amounts of kerosene and other oil products.

The electricity problems come as leaders are trying to deal with a political crisis that erupted when the country's largest bloc of Sunni political parties withdrew from the government.

President Bush called Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi to urge them to try to preserve political unity amid stiff challenges to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government from rival political forces and insurgents.

In another development, U.S. and Iraqi forces announced Saturday they had killed the mastermind of attacks on Samarra's famed Golden Mosque, which sparked sectarian violence across the country.

Haytham Badri, who also used the last name Sabi, was killed Thursday when his car caught fire as he fled a U.S. air assault on his home, Iraqi police said. He had been hiding with a group of armed men in the Banat Hassan area of eastern Samarra, about 65 miles north of the capital.

Iraqi officials said Badri, field commander in Samarra for the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq, was wanted in connection with a February 2006 bombing at the mosque that ignited sectarian violence across Iraq. He also was suspected of orchestrating the killing of Arabiya television correspondent Artwar Bahjat and two co-workers, who were kidnapped while covering the bombing and later shot.

The U.S.-Iraqi joint attack in Samarra also killed a dozen other insurgents, police said. Eighty-eight more were arrested, including fighters from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A man described as the local administrative commander of the militant group also was detained, police said.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced the death of a Marine during combat Thursday in Iraq's Anbar province.

The U.S. military also issued a statement saying its forces killed four suspects and captured 33 others Saturday in raids in northern Iraq and along the Tigris River Valley.

In northern Iraq, a prison riot was brought under control two days after it broke out when Iraqi guards prepared to move inmates into an isolation unit and U.S. soldiers surrounded the facility.

The riot at Badoosh prison outside Mosul, about 220 miles northwest of Baghdad, involved nearly 65 inmates. Iraqi guards killed one inmate who was trying to escape from the prison yard and wounded two others inside the prison.

The U.S. military said U.S. troops did not fire any rounds during the disturbance and no U.S. or Iraqi troops were hurt.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

Soldier gets 110 years in rape, slayings

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — A soldier convicted of rape and murder in an attack on an Iraqi teenager and her family was sentenced Saturday to 110 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after 10 years.

The sentence was part of a plea agreement attorneys for Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman had made with prosecutors. Spielman was convicted late Friday of rape, conspiracy to commit rape, housebreaking with intent to rape and four counts of felony murder.

Military prosecutors did not say Spielman took part in the rape or murders but alleged that he went to the house knowing what the others intended to do and served as a lookout.

Spielman took the stand to petition jurors for leniency before he was sentenced.

"I don't really blame my chain of command. I don't really blame anybody," he said quietly. "I could have stopped it. I take responsibility for my actions."

Spielman, 23, of Chambersburg, Pa., received the longest sentence of four soldiers who have been convicted. Three other soldiers pleaded guilty under agreements with prosecutors for their roles in the assault and were given sentences ranging from five to 100 years.

Defense attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing hearing.

Spielman had pleaded guilty on Monday to lesser charges of conspiracy to obstructing justice, arson, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking. The 110-year sentence encompasses those crimes, too.

The case stemmed from the March 12, 2006, rape and slaying of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, 14, and the killings of her parents and sister. The attack took place in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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