* Gov't facing rising anger over dire public services
* Political undercurrent to street protests
By Rania El Gamal and Muhanad Mohammed
BAGHDAD, June 25 Iraq's caretaker government
promised to tackle crippling energy shortages that have stirred
public protests, but said it had 'no magic wand' to raise
supplies beyond the few hours a day currently available.
Unrest over Iraq's dire public services seven years after
the U.S.-led invasion has sharpened frustration with political
leaders who have yet to form a government more than 3 1/2 months
since Iraqis braved bombs and threats to vote.
Two people died in clashes with police in the past week,
prompting Electricity Minister Karim Waheed to quit on Monday.
Shi'ite rivals of Prime Minister Nuri-al-Maliki have supported
the demonstrations over power shortages, heaping pressure on
Maliki as he tries to secure a second term in coalition talks.
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, who has temporarily
taken over the electricity portfolio, cautioned there was "no
magic wand or miracle" to improve on the few hours per day of
power that homes and businesses currently survive on.
He said measures would be taken to increase supplies, with
temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius in a country also
suffering from severe water shortages.
The steps include reducing and diverting power allocation
from Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, long a resented symbol of
the U.S. occupation that is off limits to most Iraqis and now
home to the seat of Iraqi government.
Shahristani said two power facilities had been restored,
including one in the southern city of Nassiriya, where police
used water cannon on Monday to disperse protesters hurling rocks
at the offices of the provincial council.
"I am not saying these measures will solve the problem," he
told a news conference. "But they will help alleviate the
suffering of the citizens."
The Iraqi army has also pledged to crack down on electricity
theft. Baghdad provincial governor Salah Abdul-Razzaq, an ally
of Maliki, said on Thursday that under current production, each
household should receive at least 15 hours of electricity per
day, but "abuses and poor distribution" mean they get far less.
Maliki has told Iraqis the problem will not be fixed for
another two years when multibillion-dollar deals with General
Electric (GE.N) and Siemens (SIEGn.DE) bear fruit and double the
capacity of Iraq's creaking national grid.
But endemic corruption and unfulfilled pledges have eroded
public trust in politicians who promise stability and prosperity
on the back of improved security and deals with oil majors to
develop Iraq's vast but underexploited oilfields.
The power protests have emboldened rivals of Maliki who hope
to form a government with his mainly Shi'ite State of Law
alliance but deny him a second term as prime minister. Talks
will likely yet drag on for weeks, possibly months.
"A government that respects its people does not point guns
at their chests or target them with live bullets," said Ammar
al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI),
one of the main Shi'ite blocs jockeying to enter government.
(Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Matt
Robinson; editing by Raloph Boulton)