Power Station Visit Sums Up Iraq’s Troubled State of Electricity Affairs

BY Margaret Warner  August 18, 2010 at 4:50 PM EDT

Producer John Zito, Margaret Warner and Doura power station director Ghazi Abdulaziz. Photo by Larisa Epatko

BAGHDAD | “Let me tell you a joke,” the man in the blue jumpsuit and white hard hat said to me Wednesday. “A family joke.” I was standing in one of the control rooms of the four-stack Doura power station in southeast Baghdad with the plant’s manager Ghazi Abdulaziz Essa.

“Mr. Ghazi,” as he’s widely known, is a beleaguered man. His plant provides one-quarter of the city’s power, but any resident of this city — suffering through a summer of 130-degree days with only three hours of intermittent electricity — will tell you he’s failing miserably.

In the case of Ghazi Essa, it isn’t for lack of trying. “We spend 24 hours, day and night, trying to keep this plant in operation,” he said. But his two 1980s-vintage stations are struggling. Parts are constantly breaking down, because they’re so “fatigued,” he said, and the boilers are so worn out that he only dares push them to produce about 60 percent of their designed capacity.

Inside the Doura power station in southeast Baghdad. Photo by Larisa Epatko

Inside the Doura power station in southeast Baghdad. Photo by Larisa Epatko

But he smiled broadly as he warmed to his tale. “I went to visit my old uncle, who’s been very sick for six months, but for all that time I couldn’t go see him because I’ve been here,” gesturing at the control panels behind him. “My uncle said, ‘Where have you been? Why haven’t you come to see me?’ And I said, ‘Uncle, I’ve been working too hard at the Doura plant, producing electricity.’ ‘Electricity? What electricity?’ my uncle shouted. ‘We have no electricity! Look, there, that’s my gas generator. That’s my electricity.'”

Mr. Ghazi laughed hard at his own joke, but then he sobered. “We are feeling very sorry for the people,” he said, “and we are trying our best. But it is truly out of our hands.”

Smokestacks The power plant in Doura has four smokestacks: two from Italy and two from Germany. Discarded equipment and concrete blocks litter the grounds.

Smokestacks
The power plant in Doura has four smokestacks: two from Italy and two from Germany. Discarded equipment and concrete blocks litter the grounds.

Chief Engineer Planning manager and chief engineer Sattar Tjaber was working at the plant during the start of the Iraq war. He said the workers were nervous about airstrikes, but the plant was spared. Now, smaller bombs strike near the switchyard and tanks, he says.

Chief Engineer
Planning manager and chief engineer Sattar Tjaber was working at the plant during the start of the Iraq war. He said the workers were nervous about airstrikes, but the plant was spared. Now, smaller bombs strike near the switchyard and tanks, he says.

Police Stand To boost security, a police tower is located on the grounds and visitors must pass through tight security checks at the entrance.

Police Stand
To boost security, a police tower is located on the grounds and visitors must pass through tight security checks at the entrance.

Turbine Room The power station has an intensely hot and loud turbine room.

Turbine Room
The power station has an intensely hot and loud turbine room.

Window to the Yard Through dilapidated windows is a view of the plant's switchyard. All photos by Larisa Epatko

Window to the Yard
Through dilapidated windows is a view of the plant’s switchyard. All photos by Larisa Epatko

And we’ll have more on Iraq’s electricity woes in an upcoming report on the NewsHour.

Find all of the NewsHour’s reports from Iraq.