Tension in Iraq has prompted electricity minister to resign

Iraq plunges into deep crisis as Iran cuts off energy supplies

AFP/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Loose wires from a generator supplying electricity to households in a Baghdad neighbourhood to supplement the poor public electricity grid

Iraq's long-simmering social and political crisis has intensified in recent days. The south of the country has been hit by high temperatures, widespread protests and rolling blackouts across the region. Iran, which usually provides more than a third of the gas and electricity for the entire country, has drastically reduced the amount of energy it supplies to Iraq. Some local media suggest that this reduction is linked to the millions Baghdad owes in unpaid bills to Tehran, resulting in what is now chaos in Iraq.

Iraq's electricity minister, Majed Mahdi Hantoosh, resigned this week because of the situation and the complexity of the crisis, which the Iraqi capital sees as difficult to overcome. Thousands of hospitals, homes and businesses are being affected by outages that last an average of 18 hours a day, making it practically impossible for infrastructures throughout the country to function properly, according to an official from the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity in a statement to The Independent.


Al-Karkh Distribution's Ayad Khalaf spoke about the difficulties facing the Iraqi government: "The Iraqi government is in a very bad situation, due to corruption and haphazard planning and continued dependence on Iran for its energy production". He added that "the resignation of the minister" is not the solution. The decline in energy supply has left four cross-border power lines from Iran to Iraq showing zero production, and gas imports have also fallen to negligible levels.

Basra province alone requires a minimum of 4,000 MW (megawatts), but is currently receiving only 830, according to a report by the Associated Press. The decline in energy supplies is not confined to that province alone; across the country, energy supply remains far below the required amount. Demand is generally between 20,000 and 30,000 GW (gigawatts), but the country received only 12,500 this week.


The outlook for the coming months is not good and pessimism is gripping much of Iranian society. Sajad Jiyad of The Century Foundation explained that these power cuts, coupled with soaring temperatures, make it increasingly difficult to deal with the problems arising from the COVID-19 pandemic: "It's the beginning of a summer of discontent that goes back to 2018. I think we will have more protests very soon, especially if we have another confinement because of COVID-19. If people are stuck at home without power, it will only generate more anger."

What is really worrying about the situation in Iraq today is that, pandemic aside, it mirrors what happened in 2018 between the same two actors. On that occasion, it was also non-payment problems that caused Iran to cut off energy supplies to the Iraqi country in the same way that is happening today. In that case, the protests spread throughout the country and brought all activity in the country to a standstill. Three years ago, the consequences were much worse, which is why they hope that this will not be repeated in the same way. The government in office at the time was overthrown and the demonstrations ended with hundreds of people shot by police and militias. Iraq hopes to be able to restore normal energy services as soon as possible and prevent tension and risk from returning to the streets of Baghdad.