Iraqi men sit in a cafe in Baghdad in 2010 to watch the World Cup opening ceremony
Iraqi men, some smoking traditional water pipes, sit in a cafe in Baghdad in 2010, to watch the World Cup opening ceremony. Iraqis are attempting to avoid the continual power cuts that interrupt the 2012 Olympic games. © Ali al-Saadi - AFP/File
Iraqi men sit in a cafe in Baghdad in 2010 to watch the World Cup opening ceremony
W.G. Dunlop, AFP
Last updated: August 10, 2012

Iraq power woes short-circuit Olympics viewing

Saad Ghayib al-Lami takes to a cafe to watch the Olympics, while Muheeb Khodr tunes in on a small television at work. Both want to avoid the continual power cuts that interrupt the games at home.

"When we follow the game at home, every five minutes the electricity is gone," said Lami, a 37-year-old truck driver who was at a cafe in central Baghdad to watch Olympic football.

The Iraqi national grid only supplies a few hours of electricity per day, interrupted by multi-hour outages, and Iraqis either have to make up the shortfall with private generators or do without electricity during the cuts.

"The electricity in Iraq has become like a chronic disease, and all the people are suffering," said Lami, an ardent football fan who was sitting with five of his children around a table near a television showing the Olympics, smoking flavoured tobacco from a water pipe.

"I follow the Olympics every day," he said, adding that he usually watches with friends, but "today was for the family."

Lami said that he and his children would have to leave the cafe by 12:30 am in order to get home before the 1:00 am curfew -- another inconvenience with which Iraqis must contend, and one that discourages them from staying out late to watch the Olympics.

Civilians are supposed to stay off the streets during the curfew, which lasts for three hours.

One of the owners of the cafe, Ahmed Kadhim Hatem, said that business had increased since the Olympics began, and that one of the draws was consistent electricity.

"There is an open garden here and (customers) are comfortable when they come here," Hatem said, noting that "we have continuous electricity."

He said that the number of televisions at the cafe, which is called Istanbul Nights, was increased from seven to 25 in anticipation of the games.

"Most of the people who come here want to watch the Olympics," he said, adding that business was up between 80 and 85 percent since the games began.

On this particular night, however, most of the televisions at Istanbul Nights were tuned to a non-Olympic football match, and the one near Lami was eventually switched by a cafe employee from the Olympics to a channel showing Arabic music videos.

Even the cafe was not immune from power outages, with its numerous televisions and the flashing coloured lights decorating the fence around the cafe periodically going dark for a few minutes at a time.

Iraq has sent an eight-member team to the Olympics, consisting of five men and three women, and comprised of two runners, a swimmer, an archer, a shooter, a boxer, a weightlifter and a wrestler.

The athletes have had to cope with poor infrastructure and sports facilities in Iraq, and pitted against better-equipped and better-trained athletes, their chances of winning medals appear slim.

Iraq has historically fared poorly at the Olympics. Its sole medal came during the 1960 Rome Games when Abdul Wahid Aziz won a bronze in men's lightweight weightlifting.

"We have some problems, such as the electricity and the security situation," said Khodr, a 27-year-old employee of a sports shop on Rashid Street in central Baghdad.

When he has time, Khodr watches the Olympics on a small television in the corner of the shop, which is crowded with treadmills.

"When I come to work, I follow the Olympics," he said, as "when I am at home, the electricity cuts and we have to wait for five minutes to get the electricity from the generator."

"Sometimes we lose 20 to 30 minutes from the games because of the electricity being cut," he said.

With US and Iraqi officials having promised improvements to the electricity situation for over nine years to little effect, Iraqi sports enthusiasts will likely have to wait for the next Olympics or beyond to watch without power cuts.

Iraq's electricity ministry has said it aims to increase the overall electricity supply to 12,330 megawatts in April 2013, which is still below expected nationwide demand.

The country's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Affairs, Hussein al-Shahristani, has meanwhile said the country hopes to plug its power shortage by the end of next year.

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