* Power shortages a sensitive topic in war-battered nation
* Free gasoil for generators that run for at least half day
BAGHDAD, May 25 (Reuters) - Iraq’s cabinet has agreed to provide free fuel to neighbourhood generators across the country on condition they supply at least 12 hours of electricity a day at reasonable prices, the oil ministry said on Wednesday.
The decision was an apparent move to calm simmering popular anger over persisting power outages in the war-battered OPEC oil producer during the scorching summer.
Discontent over shortages and lack of basic services has triggered recent street protests against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s shaky cross-sectarian coalition government.
The power issue is one of the most sensitive and frustrating for ordinary Iraqis who complain of continuing hardships eight years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein and unleashed years of chaos and sectarian violence.
“The cabinet gave approval to the oil ministry to provide state and private generators for citizens with their full share of fuel for free,” the ministry said in a statement.
Iraq’s national electricity grid, crippled by years of war and underinvestment, is expected to supply less than half of Iraq’s 15,000-megawatt peak demand this summer as temperatures head to levels above 50 degrees Celsius.
Electricity Minister Raad Shallal said in March the power supply through the grid this summer would be about 7,000 megawatts, enough to provide eight hours of electricity per day.
Iraq’s chronic power deficit has spawned a thriving private electricity supply business in which neighbourhood entrepreneurs bought generators and sold electricity to local people.
The oil ministry used to sell gasoil to the owners of these generators but has now decided to supply them with 30 litres of free gasoil for each kilowatt generated, the ministry said.
“The minister stressed the need for owners of generators to abide by a commitment to generate for 12 hours at prices to be specified by provincial councils,” the statement said.
It gave no immediate estimate of the total of gasoil that might be required for the fuel-for-generation program.
More protests over the electricity issue are expected this summer. Last year, several days of demonstrations over power shortages forced the resignation of the electricity minister. (Reporting by Aseel Kami, editing by Pascal Fletcher and Ralph Boulton)