BAGHDAD, (AFP) — Large volumes of diesel fuel destined for Iraq’s power stations are stolen each month by transportation contractors in cahoots with electricity ministry officials, an inspector said on Thursday.
Such theft is exacerbating life in Iraq where ordinary citizens receive no more than six hours of state-supplied electricity a day in winter and fewer than four hours in the summer.
Those who can afford it get added supplies from private generators.
“Very large volumes of the fuel sent by tankers to power stations never make it to their destinations and disappear en route,” said Alaa Mohieddin, an inspector general at the electricity ministry.
“The theft leads to shortages of about 300 to 400 megawatts of electricity per day,” he told AFP.
Mohieddin said that according to a continuing year-long investigation, the theft was being carried out by several senior electricity ministry officials working together with contractors running the transportation network.
“We are still trying to figure out the scale of the theft and exact volumes involved, but this is very big theft,” he said.
The official cited one example where 120 tankers carrying fuel in the north from the Baiji refinery to the city of Samarra had been diverted, and the fuel stolen.
In another case the same month, inspectors had found that fuel from 260 tankers had gone missing en route in Baghdad.
“We tried to put a strict inspection process in place to control the theft, but faced harassment from groups inside the electricity ministry and from contractors,” Mohieddin said.
Meanwhile, electricity ministry spokesman Musa al-Mudares said that four million litres of the fuel for power stations is supplied by the oil ministry, and three million litres by Iran and private companies.
He added that Iraq had signed a contract with Iran to buy 1.5 million litres of diesel a day.
“We signed the contract yesterday (Wednesday) with the Iranian oil ministry to provide 1.5 million litres of diesel per day, but the Iranians had already begun providing us with the fuel about two weeks ago,” he said.
Mudares added that the fuel, which would generate 250 megawatts of electricity per day, would run the Sadr power station in northern Baghdad.
Iraq’s total electricity needs are 12,500 megawatts per day, but production is currently at 6,000 megawatts, with another 1,000 megawatts supplied together by Iran and Syria.
Iraq’s entire electricity network — from generation plants to hub stations and transmission lines — took a beating under the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, the 1991 Gulf War, more than a decade of UN sanctions that followed, and finally by the US invasion in 2003 and subsequent insurgent attacks.
Angry Iraqis staged violent demonstrations last summer in several southern cities over power rationing as temperatures reached 54 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) and air conditioners sat idle.
Poor public services, official corruption and government inefficiency have also been behind nationwide protests since mid-February.