The constant power cuts in sanctions-hit Baghdad have proved a windfall for a handful of entrepreneurs who use huge generators to sell electricity to homes.
"My power generation project is proving a great success as people prepare to face hours of cuts in the coming hot season," Ahmad Abdullah, who serves a residential district of Baghdad, told AFP.
His generator has been running at full capacity from its third day of service, despite a recent easing of daily power cuts from six to four hours.
The government gave the green light in July 1999 for private firms to generate and distribute electricity, breaking the monopoly of Iraq's rundown state facilities.
The private companies charge between 2,500 and 3,000 dinars (less than two dollars due to the collapse of the local currency) a month and per amp, a far higher tariff than Iraq's electricity department.
Consumers must also pay the connection fee.
For Baghdadis who can afford it, the extra expenses are a must to run air conditioners during the summer months when the mercury rises close to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
"I pay 15,000 dinars (eight dollars) a month, a large chunk of my monthly salary, for five amps of electricity to use the air conditioner and a few lamps," said Mustafa Hamid, a pensioner who doubles as a taxi-driver to make ends meet.
Yussef Haidar, a shop-owner in central Baghdad, pays the equivalent of 30 dollars a month for his supplies. "My children are taking their exams soon and I have to make it comfortable enough for them to study," he said.
Another electricity merchant, Yassin Shaker, said it was not easy work and needed a large injection of capital to buy a generator. "You also have to service the generators regularly to ensure an uninterrupted supply," he said.
Baghdad's electricity department chief, meanwhile, warned that authorities have mounted a campaign against power "thieves" and consumers who violate Iraq's rationing system.
"These people will be brought to justice and could have their supply cut off if they continue with these violations which harm fellow citizens," Sahban Mahjoub told the government daily Al-Jumhuriya.
Iraq's electricity installations were battered in the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait and repair work has been hampered by a lack of spare parts due to the sanctions in force since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
In the provinces, electricity is cut 12 hours a day.
Spare parts, however, are being delivered under the oil-for-food program which authorizes Iraq to export crude to finance imports of food, medicine and other essential supplies under UN supervision -- BAGHDAD (AFP).
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)