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Iraq PM sacks electricity minister after weeks of protest

© AFP | Iraqi protesters waving national flags are sprayed with water cannon by security forces during a demonstration against unemployment and a lack of basic services in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on July 20, 2018

BAGHDAD (AFP) - 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday sacked his minister of electricity, his office said, following weeks of protests against corruption and chronic power outages.

A statement from Abadi's office said the premier sacked Qassem al-Fahdawi -- whose departure was demanded by protesters -- "because of the deterioration in the electricity sector".

Iraq has been gripped by three weeks of protests during which demonstrators have railed against power shortages, unemployment, a lack of clean water and state mismanagement.

The protests first erupted in the oil-rich but neglected southern province of Basra, home to Iraq's only sea port, before spreading to neighbouring regions and north to Baghdad.

Power shortages have become chronic in Iraq, a country wracked by a series of conflicts that have devastated its infrastructure.

Since the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq has allocated in state budgets a total of $40 billion to rebuild its power network, according to official figures.

But households continue to get only a few hours of electricity a day as some of the funds appear to have been embezzled.

The country has also been gripped by political tensions as its awaits the results of a partial recount of May 12 elections, while political factions jostle to cobble together a coalition.

The ministry of electricity has been a key one in previous governments.

At least two previous electricity ministers have been accused of corruption, including over fake contracts worth millions of dollars.

In 2010, one of Fahdawi's predecessors, Karim Wahid, resigned after a wave of protests across central and southern Iraq against draconian power rationing.

These shortages have forced Iraqis to buy electricity from private entrepreneurs who run power generators that can be seen on most street corners.

Electricity consumption has gone up in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, as Iraqis make more use of household electronic equipment, including computers and mobile phones.

Iraqi officials say that a drop in oil revenues means less money in state coffers to rebuild the country's infrastructure. They also criticise Iraqis who they say are not paying their utility bills.

© 2018 AFP