- Associated Press - Monday, January 17, 2011

BAGHDAD (AP) — A local governor in Iraq’s oil-rich north cut the electricity going to Baghdad from a power station in his province Monday over a dispute with the central government that he said had left his constituents with little power in the cold winter months.

Tamim Gov. Abdul-Rahman Mustafa said residents in his province’s capital city of Kirkuk only have three hours of power each day. He said failed negotiations with Iraq’s Electricity Ministry to share power generated at a plant in Taza, located 25 kilometers south of Kirkuk, gave him little choice but to cut the electricity supply headed to Baghdad.

“We have started to cut the megawatts generated by Taza station, and we will provide the Kirkuk people with it,” Mustafa told reporters.

He estimated it would take 25 hours to shut down the power supply to Baghdad, meaning that its effect in the capital would likely be felt gradually. Neighborhoods in the capital, according to the ministry, get 12 hours of electricity a day.

The director of the Taza plant, Jalal Ahmed, confirmed that the power to Baghdad had begun to ebb after its levels were dialed down from an electricity distribution station in Kirkuk.

Power shortages have been a sore spot for residents across Iraq, especially in extreme cold and heat of the winter and summer. Demonstrations over power shortages last summer in Iraq’s south turned deadly in at least one case when police shot into crowds of protesters, sparking unrest that led to the dismissal of the government’s electricity minister.

A Kirkuk councilman, Ahmed Askari, said the decision to cut Baghdad’s supply was the result of local residents threatening to launch their own protests “if the Kirkuk local government did not provide enough electricity to the people.”

Shortly before the power was cut, demonstrators shut off a main northbound highway from Kirkuk, located 180 miles north of Baghdad, and threw rocks at approaching cars in what one called an attempt to draw attention to the region’s electricity woes.

The area around Kirkuk receives about 4 percent of the power provided by the national grid, which has been stretched thin by surging demands across the country. U.S. officials routinely say that Iraq has more power available now than ever in its past, but it has been outpaced by demands as Iraqis began buying more televisions, air conditioners and other appliances that weren’t available when dictator Saddam Hussein was in power.

Saddam also routinely diverted power to Baghdad at the expense of the rest of the county in the last years of the Saddam’s regime.

In Baghdad, Electricity Ministry spokesman Mussab al-Mudaris confirmed recent meetings with officials in Kirkuk but said they would have to apply formally to keep a larger share of power.

“We are waiting for the Kirkuk delegation to let us know their decision,” Mr. al-Mudaris said, adding that the ministry would provide the region with about 200 additional megawatts of power “if they apply for it.”

The Taza plant generates about 240 megawatts, said Mr. Ahmed, the station’s director.

In another struggle between local and central government authorities earlier Monday, officials in Iraq’s southern Basra province fired the city’s police chief over a jailbreak Friday by 12 al Qaeda suspects who donned police uniforms and walked out of a detention center in one of Saddam’s former palaces.

But the chief, Maj. Gen. Adel Daham, refused to step down, saying he could only be replaced by the man who hired him — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The council also dismissed Army Brig. Gen. Hazim Qassim, who headed the intelligence office where the suspects were being held, and ordered him held for questioning.

The suspects are still on the loose and were believed to be heading north to Baghdad from Basra, a port city located 340 miles southeast of the capital.

Meanwhile, the governor of Iraq’s western Anbar province survived his fourth assassination attempt in just over a year, police and health officials said.

Gov. Qasim al-Fahadawi, a former businessman who has friendly ties with the U.S. military in Anbar, lost an arm and underwent intensive surgery to rebuild his leg after a suicide bomber struck his Ramadi office in December 2009.

Mr. al-Fahadawi was not hurt in this blast in the provincial capital of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, but three of his guards and three bystanders were wounded.

Yahya Barzanji reported from Sulaimaniyah, Iraq. AP writers Saad Abdul-Kadir and Lara Jakes in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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