Providing electricity to Iraqi homes one switch at a time
As Aqeel Hassan tinkers with a maze of cables that connect 270 homes in Baghdad’s enormous Sadr City, sweat drops from his brow. It’s a thankless job, but one that’s critical in the midst of yet another blistering heat wave.
His workspace is a small shack in front of his house, complete with a bed, pigeons in a pen for companionship, and more than 200 color-coded switches connected to a noisy, humming diesel generator.
Hassan is the generator handyman in the neighborhood, and his job entails installing and fixing wiring and switches to keep his generator running properly.
When the outdated national grid fails again again, the system delivers power to the homes in the block. Residents are becoming more reliant on his supply as summer temperatures rise above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
The beefy 42-year-old, whose arms are covered in tattoos of Shiite sayings and saints, told AFP, “I don’t have a start time when I clock in, I’m always on, 24 hours a day.”
After the US invasion in 2003, he claims he simply fell into the profession of maintaining generators.
Iraq, the OPEC oil cartel’s second-largest producer, buys gas and power from Iran to feed nearly a third of its energy sector, which has been ravaged by decades of violence, poor maintenance, and rampant corruption.
However, Iran halted power supplies to its western neighbor last month, claiming that the Iraqi electrical agency owes it more than $6 billion in arrears.
As a result, Wataniya, the country’s official electricity provider, is unable to meet rising demand from the country’s 40 million people.
“Our generators are working roughly 22 hours a day these days,” Hassan remarked. When the national grid goes down, customers pay him to turn on his generator. He claims to supply free electricity to the poorest people on occasion.
“When the national grid provides electricity, the alarm goes off, and I go turn off the generator so it can rest.”
When it’s time to turn off the lights, his five-year-old son Muslim jumps up to assist his father, who raises him up to reach the highest switches.
Sadr City, the capital’s most densely populated suburb, is home to almost one million low-income families living side by side.
With posters, banners, and framed images of his powerful son Moqtada Sadr adorning every home, it is apparent that the late Shiite scholar Ayatollah Mohamed Sadr is still respected.
There are 4.5 million people in the country. Brief News from Washington Newsday.