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Is Iraq's Power Grid Really So Improved?
SIGIR Report Skimps on the Details to Provide Positive View of Progress
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 10/30/2007 12:36 PM ET
SIGIR has optimistic assessments to spread around for the latest quarterly report to Congress evaluating the progress on Iraq's reconstruction. While as far as we know there is nothing incorrect in the report, SIGIR curiously avoids detailing aspects of progress regarding Iraq's power grid, which makes it easier for the assessment to be read as good news for Iraq's Ministry of Electricity.

Electricity production reached a wartime high this past quarter, averaging 4,550 megawatts per day, SIGIR reports. The US embassy considered the advancements in power supply such an achievement that it sent a letter to Iraq's Ministry of Electricity crediting the government with the improvements.

While the milestone of increased output should not go unnoticed, SIGIR avoids discussing the number of hours of power Iraqi residents have been enjoying, perhaps because that figure does not support as much of a perception of improvement to the nation's power grid.

Overall, in fact, SIGIR's assessment of the state of Iraq's electricity is skimpier than in previous quarterly reports, which leaves the "Electricity Output Breaks Record" item an attractive and uncomplicated lede for media coverage, as it did in USA Today's piece on the report.

SIGIR reported in its last quarterly report released in July that Baghdad was receiving an average of 8.1 hours of power per day. A recent report on Baghdad's electricity by IWPR found that Baghdad has been recently averaging about six hours of power per day.

Moreover, Iraq's Ministry of Electricity has reported that Iraq's electricity grid nearly collapsed this summer, that this year was the worst for power outages since the summer of 2003, and that some Baghdad neighborhoods enjoyed only a few hours of electricity per day.

According to SIGIR's report for the second quarter of 2007, Baghdad residents were enjoying 8.1 hours of power as far back back as June 2006, while Iraqis around the country were then averaging slightly higher at 12 hours. IWPR's recent reporting indicates the provinces still average about 12 hours per day.

SIGIR's latest report highlights September 16 as a mark of success for output, when the power grid produced 123,000 megawatt hours, meeting 60% of the nationwide demand. The report states that megawatt hours is a superior measurement to megawatts because it more accurately connects output with consumption.

IGIR's acknowledgment of megawatt hours utility in measuring progress makes it more curious that the report offers no more information on the average of megawatt hours Iraq has been achieving.

Such information would allow a fuller picture on Iraq's progress, rather than citing the achievement of one single day, but the success of September 16 gives State Department officials a positive talking point on Iraq's power grid, regardless of how little information it communicates about the big picture.

Previous SIGIR reporting has outlined the peak demand for electricity, which was 8,120 megawatts in the previous quarter. This report, however, does not mention demand, and instead relies on the CPA's October 2003 determination of 6,000 megawatts per day as the goal.

None of this is to argue that SIGIR is dishonestly misrepresenting the state of Iraq's power grid, but only to highlight the quarterly assessment's selective reporting of information. Iraq's government could use some positive media coverage, and the latest SIGIR report highlights the good news for maximum effect.

Download the full 200+ page October report, or see the highlights here: Highlights___October_2007.pdf

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