Good electricity news from Iraq

Congratulations to blogger Arthur Chrenkoff for getting an article in the New York Times based on his “Good news from Iraq” posts. I thought it would be interesting to look at all the good news from Iraq on one topic so we can see how things have progressed over the year that Chrenkoff has been doing his series. I picked electricity generation because that is one of the most important parts of infrastructure, indeed many other things like water and sewage treatment depend on an adequate electricity supply.

For each month from May 2004, the table below gives an extract from Chrenkoff’s Good News from Iraq (GNfI) for that month related to electricity generation. Because GNfI does not always report electricity generation figures, the third and fourth columns shows official electricity generation and availability figures (obtained from the Brookings Institution’s Iraq index.).

One caution when reading the table: because it only contains good news, the real situation in Iraq is likely worse than presented here.

Month Good News electricity generation average hours of supply per day
May 2004 While the Army Corps of Engineers has been mostly restoring oil infrastructure, it is also “creating and improving ports, airports, roads, bridges, schools and health clinics. The corps has replaced more than 700 electrical towers throughout Iraq, Roberts said. The goal is to restore 6,000 megawatts to the national grid by June 1. About 4,500 megawatts are currently on the national grid.” GNFI01 3902 MW 11
Jun 2004 The authorities have earmarked $2 bln next year to rehabilitate the national electricity grid. The electricity delivery still leaves a lot to be desired, not least due to continuing sabotage. Lt. Gen. Faris Rasheed al-Bayati, who heads the Electricity Grid Protection force, GNFI03 4293 MW 10
Jul 2004 Regarding electricity, 64 percent [of Iraqis polled] agreed to a question that power supplies were worse than under the ousted leader Saddam Hussein. GNFI06 4584 MW 10
Aug 2004 Iraq and US engineers have reduced the shortage this month, adding 152 megawatts to the national grid to bring the national total to more than 5,200 megawatts – enough to service 15.6 million Iraqi homes. GNFI09 4707 MW 13
Sep 2004 U.S. engineers have helped place seven generators on line this month in Iraq, bringing the national electricity capacity to more than 5,300 megawatts – a level that exceeds the country’s pre-war capacity of 4,400 megawatts. GNFI10 4467 MW 13
Oct 2004 A new generator came on line here today bringing enough new electricity to the energy- thirsty country to fuel more than 275,000 Iraqi homes. The new 96 Megawatt generator is the second new generator to come on line at the north Baghdad plant since the reconstruction effort began at the site one year ago. The commissioning brings the total available electricity in the country to nearly 5,300 Megawatts, far exceeding the pre-war level of 4,400. GNFI13 4074 MW 13
Nov 2004 October has been a good month for electricity production in Iraq: two new generators outside Baghdad have added another 192 megawatts to the national grid, eight new mobile power stations at Bayji were turned over to the authorities, and an upgrade of conductors on a 41 kilometer transmission line between the Dibis and Old Kirkuk substations has again connected the Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq. The report concludes: “October’s production in the country has regularly exceeded 5,000 megawatts, compared to the pre-war level of 4,400. Since arriving last year, the Corps has strung 8,600 kilometers of transmission line, built over 1,200 towers and added over 1,800 megawatts to the grid.” GNFI14 3199 MW 13
Dec 2004 Substantial overhauls of the power grid have produced an increase of more than 10 percent in megawattage compared with the prewar figure. ‘Right now, we have between 11 and 15 hours per day of electricity in almost all areas of the country that are electrified, and by the end of 2005 our expectation is we will be at 18 to 20 hours,’ GNFI17 3380 MW N/A
Jan 2005 Work is 82 percent complete at a power generation facility north of Baghdad. This project will increase electrical generation capacity by 325 megawatts through the addition of two combustion turbines to the existing substation site… USAID is expanding a thermal power plant in southern Baghdad with a 132 kV connection to the national grid. This project will add 216 MW of generation capacity… USAID’s project to increase generation at a major power plant in Babil Governorate is now 40 percent complete… Work is 79 percent complete in the restoration of heat exchangers at four generating stations in southern Iraq.” GNFI19 3289 MW 9
Feb 2005 USAID’s project to increase generation at a thermal major power plant in Babil Governorate is moving forward and is now 56 percent complete… To date, USAID’s rehabilitation efforts at the power plant have increased net capacity by 355 MW. When rehabilitation efforts are complete in May 2005, it is expected that the total increase in capacity will be approximately 500 MW GNFI21 3611 MW 8.5
Mar 2005 After the Iraqi grid deteriorated from 9000 MW in 1991 to 4300 MW in 2003, mostly due to lack of maintenance, the reconstruction authorities will be temporarily shutting down 10 power stations long overdue for a complete overhaul. After the re-opening, this will add another 1300 MW to the grid. GNFI23 3627 MW 11.8
Apr 2005 As March draws to a close, temperatures in Iraq are on the rise. Getting more electricity on the national grid is of foremost concern as the summer months draw near. An international team of engineers and technical professionals at the Bayji power plant has spent the past nine months working to get an additional 270 megawatts of power on the grid, which is enough energy to power more than 200,000 Iraqi homes and businesses. GNFI25 3390 MW 9
May 2005 Work continues on the rehabilitation of the Doura power plant in southern Baghdad. Upon completion, an additional 320 MW is projected to be available for Iraq’s national electrical grid. Although its four steam boilers and turbines are each rated at 160MW, all have been poorly maintained for many years, largely due to spare parts shortages. GNFI28 3560 MW 8.8

So, to summarize the good electricity news: Due to lack of maintenance, electricity production fell from 9000 MW in 1991 to 4400 MW before the war. Since then, there have been many announcements of improved generating capacity and production has fallen further to 3560 MW.

Update: I added electricity hours per day to the table.


  1. #1 jet
    May 25, 2005

    Since May isn’t over yet, May’s production looks on target for normal usage from last year. Might the lack of production be a lack of demand, not capacity?

  2. #2 Dano
    May 26, 2005

    That’s a good point, jet. With Murrican campaigns leveling a good fraction of Fallujah and wrecking parts of smaller cities, demand certainly would go down.


  3. #3 Meyrick
    May 26, 2005

    Dano, you forgot to mention the high unemployment

  4. #4 Steve Edwards
    May 26, 2005

    This is kind of amusing. You’re a dry bastard, Lambert. There don’t appear to be four columns though. I’m on some serious painkillers right now, and I only see three: “the fourth column shows official electricity generation figure”

  5. #5 Darwin
    May 26, 2005

    Jet might be right then, considering that, in addition, close to 100,000 dead iraqis don’t demand electricity anymore.

    And it seems the good news are there to stay!,2763,1491683,00.html

  6. #6 Shirin
    May 26, 2005

    Might the lack of production be a lack of demand, not capacity?

    LOOOOOOOOL! For the longest time the Americans were trying to sell us the lie that the constantly increasing shortage of electricity was not due to inadequate production, but to increased demand. Now jet is trying to sell us the nonsense that poor production is really just due to decreased demand.

    Talk about the gang that could not keep their lies straight!

  7. #7 Philip Gomes
    May 26, 2005

    Nice work Tim, squinting real hard and can’t find a fourth column, or is that a subtle rhetorical trick which correctly describes Chrenkoffs place in the Iraqi spinning machine.

  8. #8 Tim Lambert
    May 26, 2005

    Oops, that should have said “third column”. jet, it’s not a lack of demand — I’ve added the figures that show that in May, electricity has only been available at all for an average of 8.8 hours a day. I’m pretty sure the demand is for 24 hours of electricity per day.

  9. #9 Steve E
    May 26, 2005

    jet, the figure quoted is average MW, ie the average power the rate they are outputing energy on a day, not the total energy output which would be MWH. So unless they increase the rate dramatically the average power output isn’t going to get much higher.

    From the link you can see the average total energy output perday (MWH) has increase slightly from early post war, but is still less than the peak post-war (Aug 04) and pre war.

    As for demand, I guess they could only be demanding 8 hours a day rather than the 13 plus hours that were being supplied
    at the peak post war, but somehow I doubt it.

  10. #10 Shirin
    May 26, 2005

    I guess they could only be demanding 8 hours a day rather than the 13 plus hours that were being supplied at the peak post war

    Or the pre-war level of 20 hours a day.

    And lest anyone think everything is rosy in Kurdistan, I had a long conversation today with a close friend who recently returned to Kurdistan after living in Europe for many years, and he has had to purchase a generator for his home because of constant problems with stability of service. (As for the political situation there, not to mention in Iraq as a whole, let it suffice to say, that there is no democracy.)

  11. #11 Ros
    May 26, 2005

    Don’t get how the Brookings Iraq Index works other than “it is the first in-depth, non-partisan assessment of American efforts in Iraq, and is based primarily on U.S. government information”

    The ABC’s Technology and Science tells a slightly different story.
    Demand, the influx of refrigerators, air conditioners, satellite dishes, and televisions has increased demand exponentially and while rural areas and Kurdish regions are getting more power than ever, central Sunni areas have seen marked declines in power availability due to this reallocation. Nationwide, Iraq receives on average 9-15 hours of electricity per day. In the north, some areas receive electricity 24 hours a day, while some central areas can dip as low as 8 hours a day. (U.S. Embassy)

    An interesting paper in the Middle East Economic Survey by Isam Alkhalisi is of interest.
    the 1980s contracts for new power plants were awarded, some times unnecessarily, but for vested interests. By 1991, Iraq’s installed electricity generating capacity was more than twice the load demand at the time. Between 1991 and 2003, when the country was under electricity rationing, electricity was used as a political tool to reward or punish sectors of the population. It was quite common for large sectors of the country to suffer longer blackout periods than scheduled when the bulk of the electricity supply was directed to a single town or a favored region. Areas where party officials lived were assured of uninterrupted electricity supply, while other areas were plunged into darkness.”

    “In the summer of 2002, Baghdad City had continuous power supply when the rest of the country suffered daily power cuts of between seven and 13 hours9”

    Also no budget has been published for the industry for over three decades and the administration of the electricity organization has always been opaque. It seems hard therefore to trust prewar figures.

    Isam notes the Guardian’s report in 2003 of electricity workers sabotaging the network to stop the rest of Iraq getting the power rather than Baghdad.

    My point is that this addition to Chrenkoff’s reporting may be no more valid or enlightening than that allowed to Chrenkoff’s.

    What Isam had to say that I did find interesting was his consideration of the design flaws, a fully centralised power generation system and basic design flaws in individual power stations. While the knowledge that Saddam and co weren’t just barbaric and corrupt but also dead incompetent to boot is hardly a surprise, Isam argues, effectively, that the rebuilding is not meeting this challenge either. That electricity supply interruptions are as much to do with these problems as they are to sabotage.

    It is encouraging however to see that amongst all of the political point scoring and gotchas the Iraqis do have intellectual effort working to improve their lives.

  12. #12 avocadia
    May 26, 2005

    I can’t quite work out who looks worse here. The media reports for being out of synch with official DoD reports or Chrenkoff for uncritically repeating what the media reports because it supported his story. The moral of the story here is Garbage In, Garbage Out.

  13. #13 Jim Henley
    May 26, 2005

    Dammit, Lambert. Iraqi electricity production is MY schtick!

    Good work, though.

  14. #16 telluride
    May 26, 2005

    That Saddam sure made the trains run on time.

  15. #17 Nabakov
    May 27, 2005

    I suggest that from now on, we call him “Sparky” Chrenkoff.

  16. #18 john
    May 27, 2005

    You guys would have to be twits to assume that with the additional installed capacity, with more projects in the works that the delievered electrical capacity won’t go up in the near future. Infrastructure such as power plants and distribution lines take time. The terrorists will not win and a few years from now Tim’s posting will look silly.

  17. #19 Dano
    May 27, 2005

    john, since we don’t say anything about future capacity [hence the date range], does this mean we’re not twits?


  18. #20 Eli Rabett
    May 27, 2005

    Bombs tend to do negative things to power plants and power lines. If they keep going off things will not improve.

  19. #21 Shirin
    May 27, 2005

    the delievered electrical capacity [WILL] go up in the near future…

    the delievered electrical capacity [WILL] go up in the near future…

    the delievered electrical capacity [WILL] go up in the near future…

    the delievered electrical capacity [WILL] go up in the near future…

    the delievered electrical capacity [WILL] go up in the near future…

    How many times have we heard this since March, 2003?

    In 1991 fter the U.S. deliberately and systematically destroyed most of the electrical, water, telephone, and sewage infrastructure, and under sanctions intended to cripple the country, it only took the Iraqis 90-120 days to restore all services to an acceptable level. Since 2003 the Americans, with all their money, and all their technology, and all their resources, have overseen a consistent deterioration of services.

    The primary reason for this is priorities. For the Iraqis the priority in 1991 was to restore as much service as possible as quickly as possible. For the Americans since 2003 the welfare of the Iraqi people is not even on the list of priorities. Priorities number 1-100 in Iraq for the Americans are all about achieving their goal of transforming Iraq into a dependent client state. One of the elements in achieving that goal is to put Iraqi infrastructure into the hands of U.S., and build all new infrastructure that is completely dependent on U.S. technology and U.S. personnel.

    The experience of one of my close friends was repeated many, many times over. He is an engineer who had responsibility for a large piece of the telephone infrastructure and service – a piece the Iraqi government contracted out to a foreign company. After the end of “shock and awe”, he set out to get the infrastructure repaired and to restore service as quickly as possible. Of course, he did not think to consult with the Americans about anything. After a few weeks of working he went to the Americans to inform them what he had done so far, and to request some assistance with security in some areas, and they told him to stop the work, stop any services he had restored, and that it was no longer his responsibility because an American corporation was taking over the telephone systems. There were many complaints from other engineers and technicians for the telephone and electrical systems in particular that the Americans would not allow them access to make repairs, and would send them home if they tried to go to work. In terms of hospitals and other health services, report after report shows that privatizing the health system, and rebuilding it from the ground up with all U.S. technology and equipment was the priority. Rapid restoration of a decent level of health services was not even on the list.

    These are only a few of hundreds of examples that illustrate that the Americans’ priorities were one of the primary impediments to repair of infrastructure, and restoration of services.

  20. #22 Jeff Harvey
    May 27, 2005


    Great post. There really is no timetable for the U.S. to rebuild Iraq’s devastated infrastructure (devastated that is, by U.S. bombs). Priority is to complete a purpose-built fortified embassy to house 3,000 staff to ensure, as you say, that Iraq fulfils its obligations as a client state. The same is true in Afghanistan. The U.S. contributes 50 million dollars to ‘reconstruction’ and then it turns out that 35 million dollars of this is allocated for the construction of a five-star hotel in Kabul.

    The bottom line is this: to the current U.S. administration, the Iraqi people are in effect UNPEOPLE. Moreover, so long as they can maintain a significant disorder and chaos in the country, they will perpetually use the excuse that they have to stay in Iraq to ‘maintain stability’, as they will put it. Iraq is a strategic and economic prize to the Bush-Cheney junta and they are going to use whatever means they can to ensure it remains dependent on the U.S. and under their sphere of influence.

  21. #23 gandhi
    May 28, 2005

    Great post, wish I’d thought of it! But I just find it too damned hard to read through all that Chrenkoff crap about new Scout Halls being built, while rotting bodies are floating down the Euphrates river…

    For anyone interested, Ali Fadhil, one of the original “Good News” boys from the Iraq The Model blog, has now exposed Spirit Of America, the US charity which took his brothers to meet Bush in the White House.

    Details here, here and here.

  22. #24 Anonymous Coward
    May 28, 2005

    I live in the Gulf. For your information the hot time of year started last month. The daytime temp around here is 40 degrees C plus. My AC is on all day (and night). The demand is there.

  23. #25 Shirin
    May 28, 2005

    I am not sure what your point is, Anonymous Coward.

  24. #26 Kristjan Wager
    May 28, 2005

    I believe that was a response to the remark about the production might have fallen because of lack of demand.

  25. #27 Shirin
    May 28, 2005

    Ah – of course. Thank you, Kristjan.

  26. #28 Shirin
    May 29, 2005

    Ah – of course. Thank you, Kristjan.

  27. #29 Rex
    May 31, 2005

    I think what you’ve got here Tim is the Bad Good-News. Chrenkoff’s obviously got the Good Good-News covered, and the Pentagon’s got the Good Bad-News well in hand. That just leaves the Bad-Bad News. No-one seems to be prepared to tackle that.

  28. #30 Shirin
    May 31, 2005

    That just leaves the Bad-Bad News. No-one seems to be prepared to tackle that.

    But the Iraqi people are living it every second of every single day.

  29. #31 jre
    June 1, 2005

    The electricity situation in Iraq was the subject of an NPR feature story on today’s Morning Edition.

  30. #32 Bubba J. Kerry
    June 4, 2005

    everybody is just blowing right by March 2005. The way I read the march entry is that they had to pull 1GW off the grid. Add in the sabatauge efforts and I just don’t see a big discrepency between any of the numbers being thrown about. Half-empty versus half-full.

    I seem to remember that southern companies plant vogtle (georgia power) took about 12 years to build. Maybe the problem is expecting quick fixes.

  31. #33 dman
    June 4, 2005


    It’s been two years and $300 billion dollars and we’re at relatively the same level as when we started this campaign. No one is expecting a quick fix, but a hint of progress would be a welcome sign. Can you guys finally start admitting that maybe, just maybe we went in with too few boots on the ground?

  32. #34 Dano
    June 4, 2005

    Would noticing that the mothballed chemical stuff was gone count, dman?

    U.N. satellite imagery experts have determined that material that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons and banned long-range missiles has been removed from 109 sites in Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors said in a report obtained Thursday.

    U.N. inspectors have been blocked from returning to Iraq since the U.S.-led war in 2003 so they have been using satellite photos to see what happened to the sites that were subject to U.N. monitoring because their equipment had both civilian and military uses.

    In the report to the U.N. Security Council, acting chief weapons inspector Demetrius Perricos said he’s reached no conclusions about who removed the items or where they went. He said it could have been moved elsewhere in Iraq, sold as scrap, melted down or purchased.

    He said the missing material can be used for legitimate purposes. “However, they can also be utilized for prohibited purposes if in a good state of repair.”

    He said imagery analysts have identified 109 sites that have been emptied of equipment to varying degrees, up from 90 reported in March.

    Jus’ wondrin whut bubba’s got to say.


  33. #35 Ian Gould
    June 4, 2005

    <<Maybe the problem is expecting quick fixes.>>

    Bubba do a runnign tree motnh average and it becomes obvious that the trend is downwards. The key months aren’t March 2005, they’re August to November 04 when capacity fell from 4700 megawatts to 3200. That’s a drop of around 1/3 and the ground hasn’t been recovered. The highest figures achieved are around 36oo megawatts which is still almost 25% below the psot-war peak.

    Considering that the fall-off came with the onset of winter and it hasn’t been made up in the lead-up to summer, it seems likely that seasonal variations in demand aren’t a major factor in that.

  34. #36 jemy
    June 5, 2005


    You are right. But the problem is that the U.S. said they would have 6000 MW online by July of 2004. Anyone who knew anything knew it couldn’t be done. Hence… the people who said that 6000 MW in July was feasible are liars. And anyone who said there is “improvement in the system” is a liar. I know it’s hard for our organizations to stick to the facts, but they really should try.

    Here’s an article that touches on that back in Feb 2004:
    Occupation officials say they hope to give Iraq 6,000 megawatts of generating capacity — the same amount of power that the city of Baltimore typically uses — but a World Bank report says that goal “will be difficult to achieve without the addition of significant emergency generating plants.” The occupation authority has no plans to install such plants, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office. (You can find the promise for when those improvements would take place in the CPA reports and Bechtel reports from the arly days)

    the U.S. keeps saying, “We had no idea it was so bad!”
    Look at page 3, and page 24-27. of this UN 2002 oil-for-food report:

    You’ll see the UN said the grid was deteriorating. They said that the amount of money allocated is only enough to maintain the system, not improve it. They said it would take two years to add a single MW to the grid from the implementation of the new projects. They said these projects remain unapproved. (By who?)

    You’ll see a graph and table indicates that August of 2000 had a 4207 MW average for the month (I hand did this on a calculator, you may want to check me). There’s a report from December of 2002 that they added an additional 900 MW to the system: (page 4)

    The U.N. electricity group had been slowly improving the situation, but continually warned about the instability of the grid.

    Here’s the UN report from Jan 2003: (page 3, page 24-28)

    Note that the language is much the same. Almost cut and pasted from the previous year. They are still waiting on the same contracts to be approved.

    here’s the annex from 2002 that contain requested parts for rehabilitation:
    If you compare this to CPA, USAID, and DOD reports, you’ll see that the parts being requested today seem very similar this 2002 annex.

    update in may of 2003: (page 18-19)


    To sum up:
    The first U.S. bombing campaign of Iraq massively cut power production. This continued to degrade under sanctions when imports were being blockaded. The U.N. oil-for-food program launched and was able to triage the bleeding from the electricity sector, but weren’t able to create substantial improvements because requested upgrades were continually denied or delayed (Again, by who?). The, now fragile and feeble electrical system collapsed again during the recent fighting, which resulted in further degredation of the system. Our efforts to rehab the system, with far more money, are not yet showing results, and yet, we know for a FACT that the reason the electricity sector under Saddam showed no improvement was because he was evil. With us, it’s simply because it’s hard.

    At the end of the day, we WILL probably see improvements from our efforts within a year or so. I would say we’d see these improvements in the next few months, but because the reports from our agencies, as shown here, are so useless, I have to assume we’re being incompetent, which means a year and half for real new wattage.

    Why on Earth we keep lying and saying it is already improved and saying things like 6000 MW in July of 2004 is beyond me.

    A true marker for improvement would be whether or not the two Siemens generators in the Al Dora power plant in Baghdad have begun to be repaired. They were disassembled over a year and a half ago. In August of 2004 I saw the actual headhunter listing on the electricity boards to HIRE the men needed to start putting them back together. Once those men are hired and being putting that generator back together, it’s 6 months before we have a 1 MW improvement (sustainable) to the grid.

    There’s been no news from Al Dora since August of 2004 of last year. So I don’t know.

    In any case, this blog entry is a thing of beauty.

  35. #37 Ian Gould
    June 5, 2005

    Jemy. I certainly hope you’re right and that electricity output and conditions more generally in Iraq will start to improve. Unfortunately, you’re correct that it hasn’t happened yet.

    I did the rolling three month average I tlaking abotu earlier and this is the result – starting with the average montlhy output for the three months to July 04:

    4260 4528 4586 4416 3913 3551 3288 3425 3507 3543 3526

  36. #38 Wiz
    September 2, 2005

    I have been monitoring electricity provided for Iraq as well. Until 2005 Jul 28, Iraq is provided with 5350 MegaWatt, including imports from other countries. Until Au 10, Iraq is provided with 5370 Megawatt. According to other source, it is around 7000 MegaWatt in late August, but I am not sure about the exact number and I cannot remember the exact source.

    Iraq electricity surpasses pre-war levels

    Baghdad Suffering from a Severe Electricity and Fuel Crisis

    As of Wednesday, Electricity 3 X 3

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