The Iraqi government says several power plants in the country have stopped operations due to a sharp decrease in natural gas imports from Iran.

Iraqi Electricity Ministry spokesman Ahmed Moussa said on Tuesday the reduction of gas supplies by Iran has caused widespread electricity shortages especially in central and southern parts of the country.

According to Moussa, Iran has reduced its gas exports to Iraq from 50 million cubic meters per day to about 8.5 million, cutting about 4,000 megawatts from the national grid, which now carries only 13,000 megawatts.

Iraq, which depends on Iran for about one third of its electricity, needs about 35,000 megawatts of power during peak winter demand, with only about one-third available now.

The reason for the drop is attributed to billions of dollars of unpaid bills by Baghdad, due to US banking sanctions against Iran. But the drop in Iran’s gas supplies may also be the result of a recent accident in a pipeline in Iran that shut down one of the units of South Pars gas field, reducing at least 15 million cubic meters of daily production, which Iran desperately needs.

Last winter, Iran experienced large power cuts in major cities. Protests broke out on a few occasions. When authorities started burning mazut, a dirty unrefined fuel to generate electricity, it led to heavy pollution in cities adding to the popular anger.

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