Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Back Story to the Electricity Protests in the South

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 21 June 2010 17:54

It would be inconsiderate to reduce the recent protests of the Basrawis regarding the electricity situation to politics: From May through September, the weather in the Gulf is often so hot that more basic priorities take precedence. Nonetheless, it is impossible to ignore certain political dimensions to the crisis that can ultimately help explain, among other things, why it is taking so long to form a new government in Baghdad.

In particular, these aspects relate to internal tensions within the newly declared Shiite alliance that so far has yet to agree on anything other than a common desire to be considered the biggest bloc and hence the supplier of the next Iraqi premier – if they could only agree on that someone. And, as ever, they relate to tensions in the relationship between the Daawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) headed by Ammar al-Hakim. In Basra during the weekend this came into play as demonstrators against the electricity situation called not only for the sacking of the electricity minister (Karim Wahid) but also the governor Shaltagh Abbud al-Mayyahi who belongs to Maliki’s State of Law alliance (SLA). Conversely, a principal supporter of the demonstrations and the subsequent criticism of the security forces (at least two people were killed in confrontations during the demonstrations) was Ahmad al-Sulayti, ISCI’s chief representative in Basra. He has been seconded in his efforts by prominent Sadrists and representatives of Fadila, the other main forces of the anti-Maliki component of the new Shiite alliance, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

This situation, in turn, echoes the recent past in two different ways. Firstly, it is noteworthy that the attacks against Karim Wahid have been a constant theme at pro-ISCI websites like Buratha  headed by Jalal al-Din al-Saghir at least since 2008. Who is Karim Wahid? Born in Nasiriyya (Dhi Qar), Karim Wahid Hassan al-Abbudi is one of those independents within the United Iraqi Alliance that were brought into the Maliki government and gradually gravitated towards Maliki personally. Importantly, he is also an example of a Shiite who made a career and had a high-ranking job during the former regime: Having completed his education in Baghdad and Dundee he returned to Baghdad to work for the government in the early 1990s and was a leading electricity technocrat at the time of the fall of the regime in April 2003. In other words, his inclusion in the Maliki government represented the pragmatic Maliki policy of making use of professionals from the pre-2003 era. This clearly proved too much for Mr. Saghir (who, by way of contrast, spent the 1990s in exile), and the Buratha news agency soon came to involve accusations of Baathism in smear stories about the electricity ministry – and just last week in fact attacked Wahid using exactly the same red cross that had previously been used against Salih al-Mutlak in order to exclude him from the political process. Just to illustrate the current  confused atmosphere across the south, Latif Sayhud, the State of Law spokesman in Dhi Qar, today criticised local demonstrators for alleged infiltration by “Baathists” whereas Iraqiyya supported the demonstrations in Basra and in some of the mid-Euphrates governorates! Once more, it seems, Jalal al-Din al-Saghir has managed to make friends with both anti-Baathists and their opponents by attacking Maliki…

Red Lines: The Buratha news agency attacks Karim Wahid (top) and Salih al-Mutlak (bottom)

The second interesting aspect about the demonstrations concerns the parallel to the situation in Basra in early 2008, before the so-called “Charge of the Knights” security operation. Back then, the immediately precipitating event for the government intervention was also a popular demonstration, which similarly targeted an individual loyal to Maliki, General Mohan (who, among other things, had been critical about Iranian influence in the Basra area). ISCI at the time apparently feared that the Sadrists in Basra were becoming too strong, and on this occasion managed to persuade Maliki to intervene, only to see the alliance collapse months later as Maliki discovered Iraqi nationalism and decided to contest the local elections on a separate, non-sectarian ticket – State of Law.

Embattled Maliki allies: Shirwan al-Waeli and Karim Wahid in crisis talks

The latest news is that Maliki has despatched a ministerial delegation to Basra to investigate urgently. Whether he prefers to save his minister this time remains to be seen.

29 Responses to “The Back Story to the Electricity Protests in the South”

  1. Zaid said

    apparently he’s already resigned.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Yeah, it is coming through on the newswires right now. I thought it was interesting that some in SLA appeared to stand by him for a while, calling the demonstrations “politicised” etc.

    I guess the big question now is whether they should appoint a new one, or hope for a new government…

  3. Ali W said

    People close to Maliki/Dawa are saying that the Sadrists were protesting, however this cant be the actual reason in my view. The Iraqi weather is horrendous, without electricity is unbearable and I think the protests were a good thing, it will kick the backside of officials into acting.

    If more protests all over Iraq start protesting about the slowness of the formation of government, then I’m sure things would pick up.

  4. Ali, do you truly believe that these protests will “kick the backside” of officials into actually doing something about finally fashioning a new government? Everything I’ve read so far suggests to me that most of the politicians (who, I’d surmise, have electricity and refrigerated air-conditioning powered by private generators) could give a rat’s “behind” about the urban poor sweltering in their houses in Basra or Sadr City.

  5. Ali W said

    John I do, the protesters have forced the resignation of the electricity minister, and now Maliki has said that they will review the capabilities and actions of the council of basrah and will take action when necessary.

    Especially with the open system, it has shown clearly that important figures can now lose their seats, like Bolani, Jamal Deen, Mash-hdani etc. They cannot risk that happening to them in the future.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, just a minor point on this: If that is “Jamal al-Din” as in “Ayyad Jamal al-Din”, then strictly speaking the loss of his seat was due to the overall poor performance of his Ahrar list (which won no seats), rather than the open-list system as such.

    If you meant Jalal al-Din al-Saghir of ISCI, then it is indeed correct that the open-list system sidelined him.

  7. Ali W said

    Rediar, yes your right, i’m not saying that the iraqi politicians are as sensitive to the whims of the Iraqi people as european or north american are to their people, but definitely more than the rest of the arab regimes and other developing nations.

    However I must say that I was quite disgusted with the electricity minister’s comments about the lack of patience of the Iraqi people.
    I hope Reidar you can visit Iraq one day in the summer, and see if 8 years without electricity doesn’t prove that Iraqis a very patient.

  8. observer said

    Am i the only one who noted that the Iraqi security forces were used to kill CIVILIANS. Are we sliding down the same slippery slope AGAIN.

    As for the services, the solution to all of this is PRIVATIZATION which was cancelled by Da3wa and co. in 2006.

  9. Observer,
    I don’t disagree with you much but privitization of electricity means that it would be controlled by foreignors; compare with the privatization of cellular networks.

  10. Jason said

    Yes, if Iraq wants to remain mired in the last century, it should avoid privatization and foreign ownership at all cost, especially the kind that will provide access to information technology built on computers and communications.

    Faisal, how does the growth rate of supply of cellular access compare to development of electricity supply?

  11. Jason said

    Rule No. 1 for development: “Price controls don’t work!” Remember the extreme gas shortages, when the price differential between Iraq and its neighbors was so great that all of the gas was being smuggled out. Change the price differential and the flow reverses direction. The same will work for electricity. The government needs to install meters to measure consumption and slowly increase the rates until they are marginally higher than in neighboring countries. Set up the transmission lines and allow entrepreneurs (domestic and/or foreign) (private and/or govt) to produce and/or import it to sell to the Iraqi people. The market will solve the problem.

  12. Jason,
    I believe telephone access should come before electricity but ownership and running of infrastructure should be in the hands of Iraqis only.
    Jason, why doesn’t the US privatize its army?
    You can’t run Iraq like the US.

  13. Reidar Visser said

    OK, thanks, but no further comments on the general pros and cons of privatisation please, whether in Iraq or elsewhere! That is not the subject of this post.

    The one aspect of this that I find quite interesting relates to the idea that the Daawa should be pro-state and others, including the Kurds and ISCI, should be pro-privatisation. It has even been suggested that some in Iraqiyya belong to the privatisation camp, thereby diluting its centralist position in the question of state structure somewhat.

    I believe much of this is caricature, related not least to exile/domestic cleavages inside each of these groups, and to which particular country the various politicians lived in during exile. But it might of course help explain why certain leaders in Iraqiyya and ISCI find it easier to talk to each other despite the fact that they have very little else in common.

  14. Saif said

    So with a government lacking a minister for the burning issue and governors possibly next on the list, this should put Maliki out of breath in the negotiations marathon! Am I going too far with thinking that lack of services finally imposed itself as the catalyst that will force an arrangement to happen?

    Difficult to see Maliki maintaining the same resilience and leverage as time passes on. But I also don’t know how Iraqiya can accommodate to statements such as the ones made by Basra provincial council chairman on Sunday, in which he instantly promoted autonomy as the solution. A reminder that it is difficult for Iraqiya to (share) with others in INA even the benefits of a setback for a common rival.

    Isn’t this also the most convenient time since the elections for instructions to come out from Sayed Sistani to form an “all-inclusive” government?

    This is my first post here and my thoughts are strongly going towards that the current events are going to strongly affect the dynamics, and I thought this would be the best place to get opinions on them.

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Saif, many thanks. What I still don’t get is why, based on the critical situation with respect to services today, everyone should be included in the government. Clearly, when the question is about ministerial competence, it makes sense to keep the number of involved parties low. What I mean is this: Any oversized government of national unity will need to satisfy lots of party interests, and for each extra party that gets included, it gets more likely that a potentially competent minister will become excluded. That’s one of the reasons I am advocating a minimum-winning cabinet for Iraq (State of Law and Iraqiyya only). Another reason, of course, is that it would take a lot less time for two parties to agree (basically Daawa and Wifaq) than for a roundtable including both the Kurds and all the factions of INA to agree on anything. I worry that the latter option is going to take us well into the autumn.

  16. observer said

    Why should we concentrate on ministers as if by selecting the “right” technocrat, the problem will be resolved. It is true that in Iraq, every decision is a minister level (eve for as simple a task as deciding who to send to be trained abroad!), but the problem, in my humble opinion, is systematic. The whole system is not functioning and regardless of who they put as the head, he/she will have minimal impact. The only reason why things were “working” during Saddam is that punishment was sever for non performance. Now that there is little punishment/accountability, the whole system has ground to a halt.

    I believe that the mistake of Jafari and Maliki is to believing that the system can be “fixed” and they are blaming Muhassassa for the non performance when in fact the problem is deeper than who is “heading” andy given ministry… So even if the government is Iraqia/Da3wa, it is not going to solve the problem unless there is an agreement on the type of programs to implement…

  17. Saif said

    Reidar, by no means I think an oversized government will solve the problem, quite the contrary,I agree with you that it will be counter-productive, as I agree with Observer that the problem is in a way systematic. But I think that now more than ever Maliki will start feeling the pressure. To take it further, in a way everyone is feeling the pressure.

    How I see it, and for now this is just an assumption, what might happen is that the issue of lack of services will gather momentum, become the drive and the backdrop for an arrangement to be reached. In the immediate future it will certainly overshadow victories like the next arrest of a Qa’ida member or complains of an assassination schemes against X or Y! But it will also extend to be the soft belly for any coming government, particularly if some are left out (INA or the Sadrists for example). It has the potential to dust the current political bundle under the carpet, for a while (with the pleasure and blessing of external parties).

    Realistically no tangible improvement in the services is achievable in a short period and it is too heavy of a burden for just a few to carry. If a deal was struck and a government formed before these events, that could have given the parties involved some space, but since it happened while the deadlock is most apparent, it could become the ticking clock. Against this sort of situation, I expect that in the minds of Maliki, Allawi, Abdul-Mahdi… forming the government with as many partners as possible is a safety valve. A way to juggle with the blame or at a later stage throw it all on Muhassassa when some feel strong enough to re-arrange the balance of power from within an existing government.

    Saddly, I think that chances, as slim as they were, to form a cohesive government were better before the Basra demonstration. If a domino effect towards an arrangement does happen, this arrangement will hardly be anywhere close to the desired solution I wish for.

  18. Tariq A said

    Giving Iraq’s violent history and complex social fabric, It’s only way out of these tumultuous political impasse is through national reconciliation – South Africa is a good example to follow- to safeguard the country’s unity and future.
    Incidentally, I recently published an article titled “Is Iraq reverting to square1?”:

  19. Salah said

    Giving Iraq’s violent history and complex social fabric

    This a hox

    and now Maliki has said that they will review the capabilities and actions of the council of basrah and will take action when necessary.

    Yap he did let read carfully what he siad in news media:
    رئيس الوزراء يوجه بحماية اصحاب المولدات الاهلية وإنزال اقسى العقوبات بمن يثبت تورطه في تهديدهم
    الاربعاء 23/6/2010

    رئيس الوزراء السيد نوري كامل المالكي يوجه بحماية اصحاب المولدات الاهلية وإنزال اقسى العقوبات بمن يثبت تورطه في تهديدهم

    وجه دولة رئيس الوزراء القائد العام للقوات المسلحة السيد نوري كامل المالكي الاجهزة الامنية بتوفير الحماية لأصحاب المولدات الاهلية ، بعد تعرضهم الى تهديدات في مناطق الكرادة والجادرية والزعفرانية وباقي مناطق بغداد لإجبارهم على التوقف عن تزويد المواطنين بالطاقة الكهربائية .

    كما وجه سيادته بإنزال اقسى العقوبات بجميع الاشخاص والجهات التي يثبت تورطها في هذه العملية التي يراد منها تأليب المواطنين وزيادة معاناتهم واثارة الفوضى وزعزعة الأمن والاستقرار.
    المكتب الإعلامي لرئيس الوزراء

  20. Jason said

    The focus on keeping everyone in govt versus picking the most competent technocrats is twofold. First, a fear that the democracy is not yet mature enough to shut out the possibility that an excluded group could again take up arms. Second, the nature of the centrally planned economy which concentrates power over the economy and facilitates the view that said power can and should be divided like spoils of war, rather than being used to serve the people.

  21. Reidar Visser said

    The focus on keeping everyone in govt reflects the success of the leaders of the medium-sized parties (INA and the Kurds) in prophesising Armageddon in case they (or ethno-sectarian interests more broadly) are excluded from government.

  22. Salah said

    reflects the success of the leaders

    Give me a break. What success you talking about?

    More than two month passed your folk can make their minds to agree to make government in addition most corrupted guys hungering around left the nation/Iraqi under miserable life and living while they live in their “Green Horse Race Zone”.

    You need to read what the southern Iraqi people in Basra and Al-Muthans and Al-Naserryia these the cities Dawa and or those Mullah came to rescues them from the tyrant, let see what they talking and saying not these guys thugs with their success, then come and convenes Iraqis with your white wash succusses as you claiming

    Let read this by Basrawies كاظم فنجان الحمامي

    في البصرة ننهض صباح كل يوم لنمارس طقوس رياضة الحرمان, نهرع إلى محطات الوقود لنتزود بالبنزين والمحروقات اللازمة لتشغيل مولدات الطاقة المنزلية, التي تمثل عندنا الخط الاحتياطي الأول, اما الخط الاحتياطي الثاني, فهو خط الاشتراك بمولدات الأحياء السكنية المملوكة للقطاع الخاص, ندفع تكاليفها من مدخراتنا المالية المتواضعة, وتحسب الكلفة على عدد الأمبيرات المسحوبة, التي ارتفعت أسعارها إلى 15 ألف دينار تدفع شهريا مقابل كل أمبير ليلي, ونستعين في بعض الأحياء الراقية بالنضائد والمتسعات والخلايا الشمسية على قدر أهل العزم, بينما يستعين المسئولون وأصحاب النفوذ المالي والسياسي والإداري بمولدات خرساء صماء لا صوت لها, وبقدرات كهربائية قادرة على تشغيل أجهزة التكييف الجبارة, التي تنقلهم برمشة عين إلى القارة القطبية المنجمدة, فهنيئا لأصحاب النعيم نعيمهم وللبائس المسكين ما يتجرعا. اما خطوط وأسلاك محطات التوليد الوطنية العامة, فلم يعد لها أي تأثير مباشر في حياتنا, بسبب غيابها الطويل وانقطاعها العشوائي, ومازلنا في أمس الحاجة إلى 2000 ميغاواط, ونتطلع إلى عودتها إلينا واستقرارها في ديارنا بشغف كبير.

    Or let read this very real reflection what the NEW Iraq leads by Dawa and other Mullah regime done to iraq and doing to Iraqis.
    اللاجئون العراقيون والعوده للخرابه

    بعد كل اللي كتبته اعلاه, اذا شفتوا نفسكم ما قنعتوا بالرجوع الى احضان الوطن, ما بقالي غير اوجه نصيحه لوجه الله لكلمن يريدون يرجعوه بالقوه, وهي يلزمله بريطاني او سويدي ويعلسه, لان السجن عدهم احسن من المنطقه الخضراء عدنه.

    Note: “يعلسه,” this word in tody Iraq used for the crimes done by all these thugs who are parties of dawa and others with their secret mullah or gangs who killed any Iraq voice against their crimes and corruptions which very obvious for each Iraqi just for those who are deaf and blind.

    During tyrant regime Iraqis used to lost their loved ones “missing” they tell they don’t know were are they, they said may be went to ACID Bath, or Mincing Machine or ended in mass graves……. No days is missing more peacefully by “يعلسه”

  23. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, I can only suggest you re-read my comment, which contains a degree of sarcasm. It is in fact critical of INA and the Kurdish alliance.

  24. Salah said


    The talk here not just about INA & Kurds here, Iraq in total is a mess left like that for many reasons and causes. I am not can go to say here as its very clear from 2003 and upward.

    Yes Kurd / Kurdish are more stable more success than most other part of Iraq, this because that area long time united around their tribal leaders, although were was up&don but those tribal leaders managed to hold the power carefully without very violent way with their follow, also let not forgot US/West like this part of Iraq looks better due to their self-interests as your latest post.

    All in all Iraqis living miserably you like it or not that’s your problem.

  25. Salah said

    لا اعرف لماذا لم يطلق المسئولين العراقيين على مظاهرات المدن العراقية والقائمين عليها بالغوغاء او بصفحات الغدر والخيانة ؟؟.
    لمن لا يعلم ان منظم مظاهرة البصرة قد داهمت بيته القوات العراقية واعتقلت ابناءه الاثنان ووضعتهم رهن الاعتقال لحين مجيئ أبوهم ..
    أليس اليوم اشبه بالبارحة عندما كان البعثيين يعتقلون ام او ابو او شقيق او ابناء العراقيين لحين مجيء المطلوب .
    الحمد لله مثل هذه الاخبار بدأت تتسرب الى العامة وعلى السنة بعض المسئولين وبعد مرور كل هذه الفترة الخبر هذا لم ائتي به انا ولو اتى به احد من العامة او من الاعلاميين او الصحفيين اكيد لعوقب ذالك الكاتب او لعلهم يقيمون دعوة على الموقع او الصحيفة التي نشرت الخبر او ربما وهذا اقلها يكذب الخبر وعلى السنة الساسة العراقيين والقريبين من مثل هكذا احداث وتصرفات ..

  26. Jason said

    Reidar, I take it that you believe they are bluffing – that the danger of another conflagration is past, even if, say, the Kurds or Sadrists were to be excluded?

  27. Reidar Visser said

    Jason, Yes, I think they (and many Washington-based analysts) overplay this aspect. Ever since 2003, it has been the main job of these parties to try to convince the Iraqi people and the external players involved in the country that Hell will ensue unless the leaders that define themselves in ethno-sectarian terms are given privileges.

  28. Salah said

    Just some background about the privatisation of Iraqi asset that started by the thug Paul Bremer

    جرى نهب منظم لثروات العراق من قبل رموز الإدارة الأمريكية السابقة وأدواتها السياسية وزعانفها من المتعهدين السياسيين والأمنيين وعبر الأدوات السياسية من ذوي الأصول العراقية , وشاركت بمحفل النهب الدول الإقليمية الطامعة , والتي حرصت على تطبيق القضم الجيوبولتيكي للعراق, وتجريف اقتصاده وقدراته العسكرية , والتي تلقي بظلالها على الأمن القومي العربي ومعادلة التوازن الإقليمي والسلم والأمن الدولي, وكان ” بول برايمر” السيئ الصيت قد اصدر في أيلول 2003 قوانين تحظر فرض العديد من التعريفات الكمركية, وتضع سقفا لضريبة الشركات , وضريبة الدخل لا يتعدى 15%, وقد باشر في خصخصة الصناعات المملوكة للدولة العراقية , مع أن اتفاقية “لاهاي” لعام 1907 حول الأنظمة المتعلقة بقوانين الحرب وأعرافها حيال الأرض, تمنع المحتل من بيع أصول او موجدات البلاد المحتلة, وكانت خطة الخصخصة هذه جزء من معزوفة إدارة بوش منذ البداية, ويشير “راجيف شاندراسكاران”[12] من صحيفة “واشنطن بوست” حادثة تباهى فيها “توماس فولي” المانح الجمهوري المعين في أب 2003 رئيس لجنة تطوير القطاع الخاص في العراق “بأنه سوف يخصخص جميع المشاريع التي تملكها الدولة العراقية في غضون شهر” وعندما قيل له بان ذلك مخالف للقانون الدولي رد فولي قائلا ( لا آبه لشيء من هذا القبيل أنني لا أقيم وزناً للقانون الدولي فقط تعهدت للرئيس بان اخصص مشاريع الأعمال في العراق)؟؟؟.

  29. JWing said

    The electricity protests and Maliki’s response will have zero affect upon the formation of the government. Nothing Maliki has done will alleviate the problem, and was basically done to get the public off his back. See:

    His moves have apparently not worked as there have been demonstrations in two new provinces.

    I really don’t think Maliki or many politicians really care what the public thinks. They all seem to have a top down view of things and haven’t been responsive in the last 5 years, so I don’t think they’ll change now. The real issue is if these protests continue and grow in strength there might be a real crisis of confidence in whatever new government is eventually put together. Basically, when they get seated, they may face an Iraqi street that cares nothing about their promises or who is and isn’t in the ruling coalition, which could cause some serious problems.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: