Aqeel Hassan’s sweat is pouring out as he tinkers with a maze of cables that connect 270 homes in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City. It’s a thankless job, but crucial in the midst of another scorching heatwave.
Her workplace is a humble shack directly across from her house, which features a bed, pigeons in a pen to keep her company, and over 200 color-coded switches, hooked up to a loud, buzzing diesel generator.
Hassan is the neighborhood generator tinkerer, whose job it is to install and repair wires and switches to ensure his generator continues to function properly.
The system powers the homes in the block when the decrepit national grid goes down, again. As summer temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), residents increasingly depend on its supply.
“I don’t have a start time when I point, I’m always on, 24 hours a day,” the sturdy 42-year-old told AFP, whose arms are covered in tattoos of sayings and of Shiite saints.
# photo1 He says he just took care of the maintenance of the generators after the American invasion in 2003.
Iraq – the second-largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel – buys gas and electricity from neighboring Iran to supply about a third of its energy sector, dilapidated by decades of conflict, poor maintenance and widespread corruption.
But Iran decided last month to cut power to its western neighbor, claiming Iraq’s electricity ministry owed it more than $ 6 billion in arrears.
This left the national electricity supplier Wataniya unable to meet the growing demand of the country’s 40 million people.
“Our generators are working overtime these days – about 22 hours a day,” Hassan said. Customers pay him to turn on his generator when the national grid goes down. Even if sometimes he says that he provides electricity for free to the poorest.
# photo2 ″ When the electricity comes from the national grid, the alarm will sound and I will turn off the generator so that it can rest. ”
His five-year-old son Muslim loves it when it’s time to cut the power and rushes to help his dad who lifts him up to reach the highest switches.
– ‘All my life’ –
Sadr City is the most densely populated suburb of the capital with over a million low-income households squeezed next to each other.
Named after the late Shia scholar Ayatollah Mohamed Sadr, it’s clear how revered he is still, with posters, banners and framed images of his powerful son Moqtada Sadr adorning every home.
There are 4.5 million private generators nationwide, estimates Harry Istepanian, a Washington-based independent energy consultant and senior fellow of the Iraq Energy Institute.
Each household spends “on average about $ 100 to $ 200 per month on electricity (which) equates to a $ 6 to $ 10 billion business for private producers, but this neither contributes to the country’s economy nor pays for it. ‘taxes,’ he said.
“There are no laws regulating the industry because it is closely linked to political elites and armed militias. It is part of the complex network of illicit Iraqi businesses and underground economy, ”added Istepanian.
Mortada Ali, 22, is the latest in a chain of people profiting from the business. He responds to his boss who owns several generators in the region.
“I have to stay near the light switches. I didn’t choose that, there’s just nothing better around. I wanted to open a shop, or even join the Iraqi army, ”he lamented.
“I can’t get married because I just can’t leave this place. It’s my whole life. My life could become easier if Wataniya feeds more into the network, so that I can rest, ”said the soft-spoken young man.
– “No miracle solution” –
Dividing his time between school and helping his father maintain the family’s three generators, Karrar Hamed invites his friends out.
Her crowded, air-conditioned room has a flat-screen TV, a smartphone for receiving calls from customers to pay for their electricity, and an iPad, her most precious possession.
He is addicted to the popular PUBG video game.
“The power is on about 12 hours a day intermittently, so I have to be careful when it goes off,” said the 17-year-old.
Istepanian said Iraq’s electricity problems and dependence on this alternative grid will likely last for some time.
“There are no quick fixes to power shortages, especially during peak seasons. The government must take bold steps to liberalize the sector, ”he said.
“It would take decades for Iraq to develop an efficient and competitive energy market.
Responding to another request from a neighbor to light his house, Hassan predicted that the situation “will never be resolved”.
“The state is too corrupt.
© 2021 AFP