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UPDATE 1-Iraq imports 7 gigawatts of electricity from Iran, says official

Yousef Saba

(Adds detail, background)

CAIRO, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Iraq imports 7 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from Iran to make up the shortfall between domestic power production and the country's needs, a power ministry official said on Wednesday.

Abbas Jabber, electricity ministry undersecretary, told a conference in Cairo that "maybe in three years" Iraq could achieve self-sufficiency but added that it would be a challenge because consumers paid a fraction of the production costs.

Decades of sanctions and conflict have left Iraq, a major oil producer, with a power shortage. Jabber said domestic production capacity was 19.5 GW while the country's needs were 26.5 GW, with the gap filled by Iranian imports.

The figures do not include the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

"This is something we are forced to do honestly, because we do not have sufficient generation capacity to meet demand in Iraq," the undersecretary said of Iraq's reliance on Iran.

But he said Iraq expected to diversify its power suppliers, as a power link to Gulf Arab states was expected to start operating in the summer of 2020, with capacity to supply about 500 megawatts.

Jabber said Iraqi consumer bills covered less than 10% of production costs but he said Iraq was adding capacity, without elaborating.

He also said damage caused by Islamic State had cut domestic capacity by about 4.5 GW.

(Reporting by Yousef Saba; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein and Yousef Saba; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)