BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi engineers flipped a switch to start a steam turbine at Baghdad’s biggest power plant on Monday, a step toward lighting this war-battered city that has spent two weeks in darkness.
It may take a day or two to restore the city to some 90 percent of its prewar power, said Janan Behnam, manager of the al-Dora power plant in south Baghdad.
“This is very good news,” said Brig. Gen. Steven Hawkins, commander of a U.S. Army engineers task force that worked with the Iraqi electrical engineers.
“It’s the Iraqi power people putting Iraqi power systems back on line,” said Hawkins, who met with Behnam to get updated on the status of the giant repair job to Iraq’s power grid.
The collapse of much of Iraq’s electrical system — and the resulting loss of a clean, pumped water supply — has been a major grievance for Baghdadis since U.S. troops took control of the city and ousted the government of President Saddam Hussein on April 9.
The darkness has aided gangs of looters who have stripped government offices, businesses and some homes of anything of value, has kept almost all shops closed and has brought economic life to a near-standstill.
The lights went out April 3 for a variety of reasons as U.S. troops closed in on Baghdad, according to Hawkins. He cited bomb damage to power plant’s fuel pipelines, the disruption of fuel truck convoys, damage to overhead transmission lines, and looters’ ransacking of the national power control center.
But Behnam attributed the power failure simply to heavy U.S. bomb damage to transmission lines.
Behnam said his crew turned on one of al-Dora’s four steam turbines at 1:30 p.m. Monday, and hoped to have the plant operating in “synchrony” by 10:30 p.m., sending power to the nation’s biggest generator, at al-Mussayib to the south, and kick-starting that plant.
That in turn will aid in “balancing” and restoring voltage throughout the grid, he said, and in distributing current to 252 substations in Baghdad. The process started some days ago with the startup of smaller plants, beginning with a hydroelectric facility, outside Baghdad.
“You’ll see lights tonight in parts of the city,” said Hawkins, who normally commands an Army Corps of Engineers region based in Cincinnati.
The plant manager credited the Americans with helping by providing troops for security — to guard against further vandalism — and with communications during the restoration process.
As for when most lights might be back on in Baghdad, he said, “I hope tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we will have perhaps 90 percent restored.” He said Baghdad’s eastern half would be powered up first, and districts west of the Tigris River by Wednesday.