Iraq's President Salih calls for end to sabotage of electricity supply

No group has claimed responsibility for attacks as protesters demonstrate against power cuts

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 29, 2018, a man checks the wiring on electric cables reaching out to homes in Saadoun Street in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, as chronic power shortages have forced residents to buy electricity from private entrepreneurs who run generators on street corners across the country. With a freshman at the helm, Iraq's electricity ministry is planning a long-awaited overhaul of the broken sector to both meet US pressure to halt Iranian power imports and head off summertime protests over chronic cuts. Baghdad hopes it will generate enough megawatts to feed demand by summer, when cuts can leave millions powerless for up to 20 hours per day. / AFP / SABAH ARAR

Attacks on Iraq’s electricity infrastructure must end, President Barham Salih said on Monday, as the country experiences widespread power cuts amid soaring temperatures.

High voltage power lines in remote areas such as the eastern province of Diyala and the northern provinces of Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Mosul have come under attack, causing nationwide disruption of energy supplies.

“There is a vital need to preserve the stability and safety of the country, protect citizens and reject actions and abuses that undermine stability,” Mr Salih said during a meeting with former prime minister Haider Al Abadi.

“It is also important to combat terrorism and prevent acts of sabotage against supply energy lines,” he said.

The country has witnessed a new wave of protests in several southern towns and at government-run power plants against prolonged power cuts as the temperature increases during the summer.

With the temperature reaching 50°C, protesters are expected to continue demonstrating until their demands are met.

The Electricity Ministry says the power cuts, which started in the south before spreading to the rest of Iraq last month, were caused by unexplained attacks on power lines.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks although some Iraqi officials blamed ISIS.

Despite the government announcing victory over the group in 2017, remnants and cells of insurgents still regularly stage hit-and-run attacks or plant explosives across the country.

Iraq, the second-largest producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, buys gas and power from neighbouring Iran to supply about a third of its energy sector, dilapidated by decades of conflict, poor maintenance and rampant corruption.

But Iran decided last month to cut supplies, saying the Iraqi Electricity Ministry owes it more than $6 billion in arrears.

Electricity Minister Majed Hantoosh resigned only a day before Iran's announcement.

Power shortages, lack of access to clean water, dwindling employment opportunities and corruption have routinely led to violent protests, particularly in southern Iraq, as successive governments have failed to address the recurrent issues.

Updated: July 12th 2021, 12:17 PM