FORWARD OPERATING BASE DANGER, Iraq — For staff members from the 1st Infantry Division Engineer Brigade, working in Iraq comes down to power: who has it and for how long.
Right now, the fledging nation doesn’t have enough.
During the summer’s sweltering heat, power, specifically electricity, is a primary concern for Iraqis, said Lt. Col. Courtney Paul, Engineer Brigade executive officer.
“We provide enough power for this region, and export about 60 percent to Baghdad,” Paul said. “We provide about 35 percent of Baghdad’s power.”
Although power outages are the source of many complaints from Iraqis, Paul said, people are getting more power than they ever did under Saddam Hussein’s reign.
However, since Iraqis have gained more freedoms, they are buying air conditioners and other large appliances in numbers never seen before.
“If we ever want to meet the demand, we have to lower the usage,” Paul said. Engineers have launched informational campaigns to get Iraqis to start practicing energy conservation. In Kirkuk, residents are paying a minimal fee based on the amount of power they use.
“It’s something we’re trying,” Paul said. “That is a sure way to have people slow down on the amount of power they use.”
Currently Iraqis are going 12 hours with power and 12 hours without, said Capt. David Unger, the brigade's coordinator for the Ministry of Electricity. Three to four months ago, most Iraqis had only six to eight hours of power per 24-hour period, he said.
The controlled power outages are a major source of complaints in Baghdad, where residents rarely were without before last year’s fighting began.
“Before the war, Baghdad had power 24 hours a day,” Unger said. “Others had only maybe four hours. Now there is equal sharing of power everywhere in Iraq.”
Unger estimated that in about two years the electricity situation would stabilize with no forced power outages. He expects Iraqis to have 14 hours on and 10 hours off by the fall.
While electricity is a major concern for Iraqis, it’s not the only area in which the engineers are making improvements.
Capt. Jeffrey Holt is working with the Ministry of Transportation to improve the nation’s railway system.
“I ensure the problems with the Iraqi Republic Railway are addressed,” Holt said. “We’re working to get the rail line back up.”
The railway is of major importance to the city of Kirkuk, which would benefit highly from the railway in exporting its oil by-products like sulfur, and grain that is harvested in the region, Holt said.