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Iraqi Insurgents Attack Capital's Weakness: Its Power Grid

Iraqi insurgents are waging war on the electric grid around Baghdad, and winning.

Nine vulnerable high-voltage lines once connected Baghdad to power plants in outlying regions of Iraq. Most of the lines are now down, according to a New York Times report published today. Insurgents simply blow up one of the 150-foot steel towers, severing the line.

This situation, which is described as "dire" by the country's electricity minister, has been going on for at least six months. But erratic electricity across Iraq has been a growing problem since the war began. An Associated Press article in February 2006, "Iraqis Remain Starved of Electricity," profiled the worsening electricity shortages. Government, healthcare and security are among the services crippled.

When a tower is blown up, it takes days for a repair crew to arrive -- only to be attacked, while another tower is felled farther up the line. Looters help themselves to the valuable aluminum wire. Repair backlog: an estimated 40 towers.

Efforts to protect the above-ground lines have proven futile. In six months of attacks, no saboteurs have been caught. The 400,000-volt lines traverse many miles of remote desert.

Iraq's electricity minister is planning to deploy 100 large diesel generators, start work on power plants near Baghdad, and install a centralized control system that would discourage electricity theft by communities closest to the remote power plants.

Total cost estimate: $27 billion.

Best-case projection for bringing power supplies in line with demand: 2009.

NY Times article
" Iraq Insurgents Starve Capital of Electricity" (registration required)