Fourth Installment of "Where Things Stand" in Iraq

June 2003: 50 percent-60 percent

September 2005: 27 percent-40 percent

Source: Brookings Institution, Iraq Index.

Iraq GDP: (U.S. $ billions) 2002: 18.4

2003: 12.6

2004: 25.5 (Estimated)

2005: 29.3 (Projection)


North: Same or Worse

Central: Worse

South: Same or Worse

Electricity has, from the beginning, been one of the most tangible and visible ways to assess quality of life in Iraq. By many measures, the availability of electricity has improved in Iraq over the past year -- though reliability remains a problem, and throughout the country we continue to hear the complaint: How can the United States of America not manage to fix this problem?

Many people still spend entire evenings with no electricity. Entrepreneurial-minded Iraqis have bought generators and leased power to their neighborhoods -- only to incur the wrath of neighbors when the generators malfunction. Our team in South Baghdad met Saad Nima Lafta, who has bought a generator -- and a rifle for protection. And in a country where electricity comes at such a premium, so too does something as seemingly simple as ice. Many Iraqis have been using five-pound blocks of ice to help cool perishables such as milk and meat. Grocers have also begun using blocks of ice when the electricity goes out. The cost of ice has increased steadily over the past few years.

The influx of electrical appliances -- satellite dishes and televisions, air conditioners and refrigerators -- has boosted demand exponentially. U.S. and Iraqi officials say that demand is simply growing much more rapidly than electricity can be generated. We are mindful that when people report that their availability of electricity is "worse," this may well reflect the fact that their neighborhood is newly stocked with consumer goods.

According to the United Nations, Baghdad's 6.5 million residents enjoyed an almost continuous supply of electricity prior to the war. Pre-war Baghdad, the seat of Saddam's power, typically received ample electricity during the day because Saddam siphoned electricity away from other regions to use in the capital. Today, power is more evenly distributed, to the chagrin of Baghdad residents in particular.

While rural areas and the Kurdish north are getting more power than ever, central Sunni areas have seen marked declines in power availability due to this reallocation. In July 2005, Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih said he expected that every Iraq home and business would have restored electricity by the end of 2005. By all accounts, reaching this goal appears far off. As of late August 2005, Baghdad residents were only receiving two hours of power, followed by four hours of no power, per day, while on average Iraqis across the country had power only 50 percent of the day. Again, available statistics vary.

Insecurity has hurt the electricity grid. Since June 2005, insurgent attacks have blacked out Iraq's electrical grid twice. A U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress in October 2005 blamed low electricity supplies on "terrorist attacks, substandard operations and maintenance practices, increased and unchecked consumer demand, and an infrastructure that has been deteriorating for years."

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