The Role of Electricity in State Stabilization

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Not too many months ago, one of al Qaeda’s tactics to create chaos in Iraq was to attack the infrastructure (e.g., water supplies and the electricity grid).  With the retreat of al Qaeda from Anbar and the constant combat they sustain in the North, there are fewer oppotunities for them to attack the grid, and power is being consumed at higher rates in the large urban areas, while outlier cities are starved.

Residents in the battered city receive just a couple of hours of mains power a day, and in the depths of winter US soldiers are facing a whole new array of challenges, said Captain Dan Gaskell.

Violence in Ramadi, provincial capital of Anbar Province about 100 kilometers west of Baghdad, has fallen significantly over the past year after local tribal leaders turned against Al-Qaeda and formed a tribal front to pursue the militants.

Attacks have dropped from 25-30 every day to less than one a week, and the numbers of roadside bombs have declined by 90 percent, according to US military figures.

“We are dealing with a new dynamic now,” said Gaskell, company commander at the Ma’Laab Joint Security Station (JSS) in West Ramadi, one of about 30 such bases now operating in the city.

But Ramadi’s 400,000 residents, almost exclusively Sunnite, are getting far less electricity than they were in the summer.

“Mains electricity is between one and three hours a day,” said Gaskell, explaining that Ramadi has suffered as Baghdad’s needs have increased.

“The power is coming from the Haditha [hydroelectric] dam. Baghdad and Fallouja take their power before it comes out here, so it gets degraded and degraded.”

Six months ago Ramadi got eight to 15 hours of electricity a day, but improvements in Baghdad’s infrastructure mean the capital is now drawing far more power.

Plans are being drawn up for a new power line to be built from Fallouja directly to the Ramadi area.
“There is no real power coming into the city,” said Gaskell. “But the central government is doing all the upgrade work so when they do turn on the switch, the city will be fully operational.”

Kerosene, used for portable heaters, has also been a major concern this winter, with corruption and theft undermining supply.

“The distribution has been on an old ration card system but it works at our local level,” said Gaskell. “The problem we have is with missing kerosene higher up the chain: a truck driver shows up and 3,000 liters are missing.”

Nothing could be worse for the perception of fairness and stability than official overuse of resources by one segment of the population.  Civil strife and unrest will eventually result from this inequity.  Institutionalized corruption cannot be rooted out overnight, but the planning for electrical generation, transmission and distribution assets should have been in the works more than two years ago.  Transmission of power from the Haditha dam to Baghdad and then back again to Falujah and then to Ramadi is a huge loss of voltage and ridiculous transmission plan.  The Army Corps of Engineers should be all over this.  State stabilization hangs in the balance, and this shows yet again that counterinsurgency is not just about kinetic operations.

Prior: Targeting the Insurgency Versus Protecting the Infrastructure

**** update **** 

LT Nixon, currently deployed, writes the following comment: “That’s one of the biggest beefs the Iraqis have had. You all-powerful Americans can’t even keep the lights on at my house? It doesn’t help that insurgents are still wreaking havoc on the grid up north. It’s gotten better, but it has a long, long way to go.”

It should be mentioned that there is not only a disparity between what we should do and have done (if we plan ahead, have the right NGO involvement, and fund reconstruction the way we should), but there is also a disparity between what we should do and are seen as capable of doing (which is what Nixon is speaking to).  This is the man on the moon perception problem.

The troubles of the United States in Iraq have been blamed on many causes: too few troops, wrong strategies, flawed intelligence, a very stubborn commander-in-chief.

The Man on the Moon rarely rates a public mention.

But the Man on the Moon looms so large in relations between the U.S. and 28 million Iraqis that every U.S. field commander knows his job would be easier if no American had ever set foot on the moon.

The Man on the Moon even gets a specific mention in the counterinsurgency manual the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps adopted last December. It is now taught at every U.S. military college and has the following passage:

“U.S. forces start with a built-in challenge because of their reputation for accomplishment, what some call ‘the man on the moon syndrome.’ This refers to the expressed disbelief that a nation able to put a man on the moon cannot quickly restore basic services.

“In some cultures, failure to deliver promised results is automatically interpreted as deliberate deception rather than good intentions gone awry.”

The “expressed disbelief” is voiced in such questions in Iraq as “how come the Americans could send a man on the moon but can’t bring us power. Or water. Or jobs. Or security.

So reconstruction efforts have as obstacles not only institutionalized corruption, lack of funding, lack of proper NGO support, and insurgent activity, but perception as well.



  • http://ltnixonrants.blogspot.com LT Nixon

    That’s one of the biggest beefs the Iraqis have had. You all-powerful Americans can’t even keep the lights on at my house? It doesn’t help that insurgents are still wreaking havoc on the grid up north. It’s gotten better, but it has a long, long way to go.

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  • http://www.rokdrop.com GI

    LT Nixon is very correct. This was one of the same problems I experienced when I was in Iraq for OIF1 and it appears this problem still persists to this day. It also appears that very quickly getting electricity operating again is becoming just as important as maintaining a good security environment.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Infrastructure,Iraq and was published January 24th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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