AP: Iraq’s electricity minister resigned Monday as the government scrambled to do damage control in the face of angry protests over the lack of power despite years of promises that the situation would improve.
The Associated Press
By SAMEER N. YACOUB
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s electricity minister resigned Monday as the government scrambled to do damage control in the face of angry protests over the lack of power despite years of promises that the situation would improve.
Karim Waheed’s resignation came as frustration over the issue erupted into violence, with two protesters killed when security forces opened fire to disperse a crowd this weekend in the oil hub of Basra. Riot police also used water cannons after demonstrators began pelting them with stones Monday in Nasiriyah, another mainly Shiite southern city, suffering from blazing summer temperatures.
The crisis has raised concerns that growing unrest over the lack of basic services could jeopardize efforts to stabilize Iraq even as security improves. It also has put a new dent in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s image as a provider of law and order as he battles to keep his job after inconclusive national elections.
The Iraqi public has become increasingly frustrated over the government’s inability to provide power, clean water and other utilities even after the spending of billions of dollars in U.S. and Iraqi reconstruction money.
Iraqis have suffered for years with less than six hours per day of electricity, with many families paying more than $50 per month for private generators to make up for the frequent outages. The problem has come to a head as temperatures have soared well above 110 degrees (43 Celsius) this summer.
Waheed said in a televised address that “the impatience of Iraqis about their suffering” would have been ended by a series of projects that would have fixed the shortages, but the issue has become politicized.
“So I announce with courage my resignation from my post as electricity minister,” he said.
Rival factions are jockeying for influence and public support amid stalled efforts to form a new government more than three months after March 7 parliamentary elections.
Waheed, who has held his post since the start of al-Maliki’s tenure in 2006, has said his ministry was struggling with insufficient funds and blamed the Oil Ministry for failing to provide needed fuel for power plants. He also said earlier Monday that Iran has failed to supply Iraq with power as outlined in an agreement between the neighboring counties.
Al-Maliki’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Many Iraqis have vented their anger at Waheed and calls for his resignation have punctuated demonstrations over the issue. Others said al-Maliki shared the blame.
“The minister’s resignation will not solve the electricity crisis because the whole government, not one minister, are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people,” said Hassan Sabah, the 24-year-old owner of an Internet cafe in Baghdad.
“The electricity crisis is not the result of one person’s inefficiency, rather it is the result of the corruption of the sectarian parties and their struggle over ministerial posts. I think that the official who should submit his resignation is Nouri al-Maliki,” he added.
The announcement came hours after riot police in Nasiriyah used water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters wielding wooden bars and throwing stones as they tried to break through a security barrier protecting the local government compound.
Helmeted police carrying shields faced off against the crowds behind waist-high red and yellow barriers and a row of barbed wire. At least 14 policemen and four protesters were wounded in the melee, police said.
Some demonstrators carried chairs they said symbolized the political bickering over government posts. They also bore kerosene lamps and effigies of private generators used to make up for the lack of electricity.
“We will continue these demonstrations till our demands are met,” said Basil Sabah, 40, an employee in the government education directorate, who was taking part in the demonstration for the second day. “We call upon all Iraqi provinces to stage demonstrations in this electricity revolution.”
Iraqis, meanwhile, buried the dead from Sunday’s double suicide car bombing targeting a state-run bank in Baghdad, the second attack against a major financial institution in a week.
The 28 people killed included a family of four riding on a minibus that was caught up in the blasts as it drove by the bank. Ali al-Kurwi, a 33-year-old plumber from eastern Baghdad, his wife Shaima al-Rawi and their two young daughters Tabarak and Zainab were returning from visiting family when they were killed.
Relatives said al-Kurwi and his wife were Sunni but wanted to be buried in the main cemetery in the Shiite holy city of Najaf because of their reverence for Imam Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.
Associated Press Writer Bushra Juhi and an AP employee in Nasiriyah contributed to this report.