[Marxism] February 9, 2004 PAGE ONE THE FIGHT FOR IRAQ
walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Feb 9 02:49:40 MST 2004
(Cuba's in its fifth DECADE of a blockade
by Washington which doesn't allow them to
purchase necessary supplies and to upgrade
all manner of necessary items, but power
outages are an extremely rare occurrence
in this capital city. The last one was so
long ago now I cannot recall it, and then
it lasted for under half an hour as I can
(And now, ten MONTHS after Washington's
occupation of Iraq, the power still has
yet to be restored, and no one knows when
or if it will. Here's the report form the
WALL STREET JOURNAL today showning both
what is and isn't happening there.)
February 9, 2004
THE FIGHT FOR IRAQ
Running Out of Power And Patience,
Iraqis Turn to Mr. Sabeeh
His Generator Gets Neighbors Through a Dark Time;
Solution Remains Far Off
By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
Staff Reporter of THE
WALL STREET JOURNAL
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Abdul Mohammed Sabeeh began moving as soon
as he saw the lights in his neighborhood videogame store
flicker and fade into darkness.
Stooping over a large yellow generator covered by a
corrugated steel roof, he inserted a key and waited until
the machine rumbled to life. Mr. Sabeeh then bounded into a
ramshackle motor home a few feet away and methodically
flicked the small, plastic switches that control the flow
of electricity to dozens of nearby homes and businesses. He
stepped back outside for a cigarette and gestured toward
the store, its lights now back on.
His neighbors call him the Minister of the Generator. "I
should be called the minister of electricity," he says with
a smile, "because I do the job better than the real guy."
It isn't an idle boast. With Baghdad plagued by daily
blackouts that last for hours, unauthorized electricity
companies such as the two-man operation Mr. Sabeeh runs out
of a motor home near his house are powering entire
neighborhoods. They are also winning the thanks of Iraqis
baffled by the U.S.-led coalition's continued failure to
restore Iraq's power supply.
Mr. Sabeeh bought the generator in July during a 12-day
blackout that coincided with a debilitating heat wave. He
began selling power to dozens of neighbors desperate for
reliable electricity, charging them an average of $20 a
month. That covered gasoline for the generator and repair
costs while also allowing for a small profit, about $500 a
month, he says.
He assumed it would be a short-lived business because the
U.S. would quickly rebuild the country's power system.
Instead, nearly 10 months after the fall of Baghdad, Mr.
Sabeeh just signed up his 100th customer, a salon owner
tired of having to pause mid-haircut when his blow-dryers
Occupation officials here are preoccupied with a political
showdown over the makeup of Iraq's next government. But
chronic power outages are the top concern of many Iraqis,
including Mr. Sabeeh's neighbors in the Amiriyah section of
Ibtessam Taha, who lives across the street from the
generator, says the frequent blackouts used to scare her
small children so much that they still are afraid of the
dark. Saffa Abdul Kareem, who runs a carpentry shop, says
the blackouts made it impossible for him to work more than
four hours a day and nearly forced him out of business. And
Nur Saad, who runs the neighborhood grocery, estimates he
lost hundreds of dollars throwing away meat and dairy
products that spoiled during power outages.
"In July, the Americans told us it would take two or three
months for power to come back, and then they said it would
take six months, and now they say they don't know when
it'll be fixed," he says, leaning against one of the
refrigerators that fill the entire back wall of his store.
"Who would have ever believed that the great and mighty
America couldn't bring us something as basic as
Mr. Saad, like many other Amiriyah residents, now darkly
speculates that the blackouts are part of a deliberate U.S.
attempt to punish ordinary Iraqis for the continuing
attacks on coalition targets. "There is no other possible
explanation," he says firmly.
Coalition officials say that's the farthest thing from
their minds, but they admit they misjudged the technical
difficulties. With the country's electricity plants still
unable to meet Iraq's energy needs, Randy Richardson, the
senior American electricity official here, says the U.S. is
rationing electricity according to a schedule of three
hours on followed by three hours off. In practice, he
concedes that the blackouts -- especially in Baghdad
--often last much longer.
While Baghdad's power grid survived the war largely intact,
it has been severely damaged by the looting and sabotage
that followed it, Mr. Richardson says. The city's
electricity problems are compounded by the fragility of the
transmission lines carrying power from generators in the
north and south. They frequently fail because of technical
problems or bad weather. Many of the substations and
transformers serving neighborhoods such as Amiriyah,
meanwhile, were destroyed when Iraqis illegally tapped
nearby power lines and overloaded the system, he says.
"Everyone wants this to move faster than it has moved," Mr.
Richardson says. "The technical difficulties are greater
than we thought they were in the summer, and this has been
slower than anyone here had expected."
Mr. Sabeeh grew up in Fallujah, which had endemic power
shortages after the 1991 Gulf War. His family, like most
others in the city, relied on gas-powered generators, and
he grew up learning how to repair them with parts he bought
or made himself. When he and his family moved to Baghdad a
few years ago, they brought a small generator with them as
a backup but rarely used it. "Under Saddam, we didn't have
these problems," he says.
After war broke out last year, Mr. Sabeeh says the city's
power supply deteriorated and finally cut out altogether in
July during the long heat wave. Mr. Sabeeh's cousin and
partner, Yasir Mohammed, remembers spending hours fanning a
newborn child with a handkerchief because of the high
temperatures. The two men used to have a small construction
business with a sideline buying and selling cars.
On the first full day of the blackout, Mr. Sabeeh says, an
Iraqi drove to the middle of the neighborhood with a large
generator and set it up in a vacant parking lot. He offered
residents the chance to prepay for a month of power, but it
was a scam: The man disappeared the next day and took the
generator with him.
Mr. Sabeeh began to rely on his own small generator, but
says he felt guilty that he had power when his neighbors
didn't. He and his cousin drove to Fallujah and bought a
German-made machine the size of a small car for $10,000.
They lugged it back to Baghdad, set it up near their house,
and went door-to-door offering to sell power. By the end of
the summer, they had 70 customers. The generator can
provide basic electricity to about 150 homes.
The business remains strong, but supplying power to his
neighbors has occasionally brought Mr. Sabeeh into conflict
with the U.S. Last month, he was in the motor home when he
heard military Humvees and tanks rattle to a stop nearby.
He opened the door and saw soldiers running toward him with
their rifles out. When they got to the motor home, the
soldiers ordered him to shut off the generator and stay
inside his house until they captured a neighbor wanted for
questioning, he says.
It was an unseasonably cold night, and Mr. Sabeeh knew that
turning the generator off would cut the power to all of his
neighbors' heaters. He decided to leave it running but make
it appear that he was complying with the Americans by
loudly closing and locking the motor home and then walking
home. The subterfuge worked, and Mr. Sabeeh says his
generator continued operating without interruption until
the soldiers left.
"People love me when I turn on the generator, but they
curse me like a villain if it goes down," he says. "To be
honest, part of me looks forward to the day that the U.S.
puts me out of business."
That day may be far away: With attacks on transmission
lines continuing and Iraq's generators still unable to hit
their prewar levels, U.S. officials say the blackouts could
continue for another year or two.
Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen at wsj.com1
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