Don’t ‘politicize’ electricity, Iraq minister urges as summer nears

Iraqis demonstrated against the poor public services in 2018. (AFP/File)
Updated 15 May 2019
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Don’t ‘politicize’ electricity, Iraq minister urges as summer nears

  • The minister said electricity is an issue of national security
  • He was appointed in October to restore the Iraqi grid

BAGHDAD: With temperatures rising on both the weather and security fronts across the region, Iraq’s freshman electricity minister is warning that politicizing his country’s power sector could have ripple effects around the world.
“Electricity is a national security issue,” Luay Al-Khateeb told AFP in a wide-ranging interview at the ministry’s headquarters in Baghdad.
“In the end, any political, economic or security crisis in Iraq will affect the whole region — and the global economy will be open to threat.”
“We’re urging for this file not to be politicized.”
Khateeb, a 51-year-old energy expert, was appointed minister in October with a mandate to revamp Iraq’s grid, which was already ailing before it was further crippled by Daesh.
But he faces a pair of formidable political challenges to a typically dry, technical portfolio: the threat of renewed protests and escalating US pressure on energy-supplier Iran.
Demonstrations erupted in 2018 across Iraq against poor services, including the measly few hours of state-provided electricity per day.
This summer will be a de facto referendum on the government’s progress.
Khateeb, optimistic, said his ministry had revived out-of-service stations, fixed transmission lines, and brought temporary generators to battered areas including Mosul that IS held in the north.
“On October 25, the week I took office, electricity generation sat at between 9.5 to 10 GW. It is now at 15 GW,” Khateeb said.
Most Iraqi provinces, he said, “will receive no less than 20 hours of electricity per day. This, to be honest, is a level of production the country hasn’t seen in years.”
In the medium term, the ministry is developing solar power, gas-capturing capabilities, and energy deals with neighbors.
It signed contracts worth $785 million with Germany’s Siemens last month, amid expectations of similar deals with American rival General Electric.
Around a third of Iraq’s electricity relies on Iran, through 28 million cubic meters of gas piped in to feed stations or the direct import of up to 1,300 megawatts of Iranian-produced electricity.
When Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran last year, it granted Iraq temporary exemptions until late June.
Khateeb declined to say what would happen if the waiver was not again extended.
“I’m not in the business of making predictions, but what I ask for from world powers is a little reasonableness so we can live in peace on this planet,” he said.
Tensions have ramped up between Washington and Tehran, with Baghdad often caught in the middle.
Iraqi government sources say the US is pressuring Baghdad to partner with American companies including General Electric, ExxonMobil and Honeywell as it weans off Iranian energy.
Khateeb acknowledged foreign embassies were pushing for their interests in Iraq’s power sector, but said Baghdad would try to steer clear of the politics.
“The truth is we don’t want to be a scapegoat in conflicts that will negatively affect regional security, and in turn the global economy,” he said.
Besides the ticking clocks of the Iraqi street and geopolitical tensions, Khateeb admitted pressure from within the government itself.
He said he had “inherited a bureaucracy” and was often asked for favors or employment opportunities.
Asked whether he, like Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, kept his resignation letter close at hand, Khateeb sounded determined.
“One needs to have a thick skin,” he said.
“Either I focus on the politicians, or I focus on the work.”


UAE says joint probe into tanker attack ensures impartiality

Updated 22 May 2019
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UAE says joint probe into tanker attack ensures impartiality

  • UAE says international participation in an investigation into ‘sabotage attacks’ on oil tankers will lead to ‘impartial conclusions’
  • It also indicated the results may take time

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that the participation of several countries in an investigation into last week’s attack on oil tankers off its coast would support the “impartiality and transparency” of the findings.
The Gulf Arab state has not yet blamed anyone for the acts of sabotage on four vessels including two Saudi oil tankers, but a senior UAE official has said Abu Dhabi was concerned about Iranian behavior in the region.
“The keenness of our international partners to participate in the investigation and the concerted efforts support the impartiality and transparency in arriving at results,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement carried on state news agency WAM.
US government sources told Reuters they believe Iran encouraged Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia or Iraq-based militias to carry out the operation.
Tehran has distanced itself from the attack, which comes as Iran and the United States spar over sanctions and the US military presence in the Gulf region.
The UAE foreign ministry statement welcomed the participation of several “friendly and brotherly” countries in the investigation, but did not name them. It did not give a timeframe, saying the probe would take “the time required.”
UAE officials have said that the United States and France, which has a naval base in Abu Dhabi, were participating in the investigation as well as Saudi Arabia and Norway.
A Norwegian-registered oil products tanker and a UAE fuel bunker barge were among the vessels hit near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs located just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has said Abu Dhabi would show restraint after the attack and that it was committed to de-escalation during what he described as a “difficult situation” caused by Iranian behavior in the region.
Saudi Arabia has called for emergency Gulf and Arab summits in Makkah on May 30 to discuss the implications of the tanker attack and an armed drone strike two days later on Saudi oil installations in the Kingdom, for which the Houthis have claimed responsibility.