We are 34 months into the ocupation of Iraq. Thirty-four months. And we still can’t keep the lights on:

BAGHDAD, 19 January (IRIN) – Lengthy power cuts over the past two weeks due to insecurity and a decrease in oil production are seriously affecting the lives of Iraqis in the capital, Baghdad.

With temperatures below zero degrees centigrade, residents of the city are currently getting fewer than eight hours of electricity per day, making them dependant on generators which require fuel that is both in short supply and prohibitively priced.

“I can’t afford a generator and can’t buy food because my refrigerator is constantly subject to power cuts,” said Mariam Hussein, resident of Sad’r City, a major suburb of the capital. “We have less than six hours of power daily.”

The closure in December of a major oil refinery in the northern town of Baiji, say observers, made the situation considerably worse, increasing the number of daily power cuts in Baghdad.

Khalid Ala’a, a senior official at the electricity ministry, blames the deteriorating security situation: “The difficulties in guaranteeing security to our employees and the increase of demand for power during the winter season have caused a decrease in the production of power at our plants,” Ala’a said.

Imagine that for a moment. Eight hours of power a day to light and heat your home in Winter. Gas prices well in excess of your ability to pay. Gas powered generators at a premium. Then compound that with the risk of death from bombs, gunfire, disease, starvation. How would you manage? How would you feel about those responsible for your plight?

After more than three years of occupation, Iraqis have become increasingly frustrated by an overall deterioration of living conditions. “During Saddam’s time, we always had power, clean water and better food than we have now,” complained Baghdad resident, Bassan Yacoub.

Only Bush and Rumsfeld’s incompetence could make someone long for the “good old days” of Saddam Hussein. And what does our government have to tell the Iraqis?

“The US government is struggling to bring a better quality of life to all Iraqis,” said Heather Layman, a spokesperson for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “But for a complete and well-structured project, time is required.”

Time is required? No, Ms. Layman, I beg to differ with you. Time isn’t the problem. The problem is lack of foresight. The problem is lack of vision. When you have no plan for the peace, you cannot win the war.

Of course, Reuters doesn’t tell you the whole story (and neither does Ms. Layman). The Iraqi Electricity Minister tells us he need 20 billion dollars to fix the chronic electricity shortages:

Iraq needs 20 billion dollars over the next five years to solve a chronic electricity crisis after US reconstruction funds failed to flick the right switches, the Iraqi electricity minister said.

“When you lose electricity the country is destroyed, nothing works, all industry is down and terrorist activity is increased,” said Mohsen Shlash. […]

Total power production is lower than before the March 2003 US-led invasion, at about 3,700 megawatts, because of insurgent attacks and other reconstruction problems, according to a Western diplomat with expertise in the sector. […]

The United States earmarked 4.7 billion dollars for the neglected electricity sector in 2003, but much of the money has gone and there is little to show for it, Shlash said.

The Iraqi government has a few projects underway to rebuild or replace parts of the country’s dilapidated electricity infrastructure, he added.

“But this is not enough. There is a big need to build more power plants and of course this needs time and money — and we lack both,” Shlash said.

Maybe the good minister could ask Paul Bremer where the money went. Or maybe he should go right to the top and ask Mr. Bush. After all, after spending in excess of 234 billion dollars on Iraq, you’d think $20 billion of it could have been found to finance electrical projects so that we would at least be producing as much power as Saddam’s government did operating under UN sanctions.

But perhaps I ask too much of Mr. Bush. He clearly has lower expectations of what can be accomplished. He still employs Rummy as Secretary of Defense. He still thinks “Brownie” did a heckuva a job in New Orleans.

Or maybe the cost of spreading freedom and democracy is simply less electricity and gasoline, shortages of higher prices for food, worse medical care, a government that restricts the rights of women, more crime, and, last but not least, a greater risk of having your <a href="http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=33278&archive=true"body blown into a million pieces each and every time you step outside your front door (or stay inside for that matter).

Of all the many things Bush has done wrong in Iraq, the devastation and oppression he has brought to ordinary Iraqis, may be the worst.

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