(by Eli Lake, Dec. 10, 2007, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – Karim Hasan is not the type of Iraqi politician that most Americans usually read about. As the electricity minister of his war-torn land, he is a technocrat and belongs to no political party.
He says he was in the main Ministry of Electricity building when American-led soldiers advanced on Baghdad, and one of the last officials to leave his post. And yet Karim Hasan refused in a one-hour interview to express regret for the fall of the Baathist state that he once served.
While Mr. Hasan is a Shiite, he is married to a Sunni and affectionately calls his children “sushi.”
Last week, when he was in his hometown of Nasiriyah, some locals asked him why he has not sped up construction projects there. He responded on Iraq’s main news channel: “There is no difference for me – [between] Nasiriyah and Mosul,” a predominately Sunni and Kurdish city in the northern central part of the country.
Still, Mr. Hasan’s story is, in some ways, a lot like other Iraqi politicians. He says he has come to expect not only death threats but that he has escaped attempts on his life on seven separate occasions. Last week, terrorists killed one of his bodyguards, and his family has since moved away from Iraq.
Mr. Hasan has one of the least enviable tasks in the Iraqi government: to repair a ravaged electricity grid battered by both sabotage and years of neglect under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
Since the fall of Saddam, Sunni Arab insurgents in particular have waged a war on Iraq’s power grid and specifically its transmission towers and the oil and gas pipelines that provide Iraq’s generators with the fuel they convert to megawatts.
Two prior electricity ministers left their posts with little success in rebuilding their country’s power grid, and the job was not considered a prized favor by the various parties trying to divvy up the Iraqi government in the spring of 2006.
In an interview yesterday with The New York Sun, Mr. Hasan said Baghdad residents on average receive 12 hours of power a day from the battered Iraqi electricity grid. But he expected that by 2011, Baghdadis would have 18 hours a day, the average under Saddam Hussein before his regime toppled.
“I am realistic, not optimistic,” the minister said. “Now I am planning to build 11 new projects in Iraq, five are in Baghdad. I am contracting seven more generation plants and 18 transmission projects. The generation projects will be completed before next summer, to improve supply to Baghdad and all of Iraq. I could not be guaranteed this would be complete.”
Mr. Hasan is careful to explain that some elements of his work are not in his control, namely the fight against the insurgency and the repair of the oil and gas lines that his generators need to make the electricity. But he also said the recent progress against the Sunni insurgency has curbed the number of attacks on the transmission towers.
Mr. Hasan also says new 62-man units, which he calls “swift repair teams,” will make it possible to repair transmission towers more quickly. Those teams are comprised of recruits in the new Iraqi army and will be armed as well as trained in repairing the towers.
In the medium term, however, Mr. Hasan said he plans to effectively federalize Iraq’s power grid in order to build more generator stations throughout the country and thus make it harder to shut off the power for Iraqis by sabotaging a single gas line or transmission line.
But the minister bristles when this reporter suggests he may be paving the way for the break-up of Iraq. “Electricity is the one thing that will keep the country together. The network will unify the whole of Iraq. By setting up redundancies, we make it difficult to knock out the power in any one place. If you give Basra 24 hours of power a day, seven days a week, then the governor of Basra is less likely to create a hassle for the central government.”
Mr. Hasan will be in New Orleans, La., this week for an annual convention of American power companies in the hopes of soliciting bids for building the new power network in Iraq.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Who is Karim Hasan?
2. What do you learn about Mr. Hasan’s family in this article?
3. When does Mr. Hasan estimate that Iraq’s power will be restored to the level it was at under Saddam Hussein?
b) How many hours of electricity did residents of Baghdad receive when Saddam ruled Iraq?
4. What has hindered the complete restoration of electricity in Iraq?
5. What solutions is Mr. Hasan implementing to combat the destruction caused by terrorists?
6. Why will Mr. Hasan be in New Orleans this week?
7. Does Mr. Hasan make you feel encouraged or discouraged about Iraq’s future? Explain your answer.
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