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Turn a Light On: Electricity Sector Reform in Iraq


Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived.  After 14 years of an impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center are ending their affiliation as the center launches a separate public policy institution based in Qatar. The center will continue its important work under the name the Middle East Council on Global Affairs by the end of 2021.

The need to confront and drive back the forces of the Islamic State (IS) has pushed long-term reform efforts in Iraq far down the list of priorities. Yet pressing economic reforms – such as restructuring and rebuilding the country’s energy sector – increasingly seem a strategic necessity, as oil prices have fallen far below government projections. How can politicians be persuaded to invest in Iraq’s long-term future at a time of imminent security threats? How can the efforts to reform the Iraqi electricity network be harnessed to reestablish government authority in newly retaken areas?

Luay Al-Khatteeb and Harry Istepanian address these questions through analysis of past attempts at electricity sector reform. They argue that even before IS advances plunged Iraq into a deep political and security crisis, divisions within the Iraqi parliament and various government agencies had stymied efforts at reform. Still, they note that improving the provision of electricity is a clear opportunity to improve basic services to its citizens, boosting government legitimacy and acceptance in areas under its control, especially as it seeks to retake territory from IS.

Khatteeb and Istepanian hold that a comprehensive strategy is needed, one that incorporates an expanded role for the private sector, rationalized electricity tariffs, and a host of technical fixes to improve efficiency. Ultimately, they contend, much will depend on whether the government of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi views the IS threat as an excuse for inaction or an impetus for change.

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