Millions of Iraqis are struggling through suffocating heat without power, adding to a list of woes including erratic or undrinkable water supplies and deteriorated security.
“It’s like Iraq is facing the open doors of hell,” Samir Mohammed Khalid told The National, after stopping before a water-spraying fan at one of Baghdad’s outdoor markets.
“We can’t stay indoors because of the electricity outages and a lack of drinking water, and we can’t go shopping. In both cases, you are being tortured,” said Mr Khalid, who teaches Arabic.
Amid the brutal heat, Iraqis suffered a widespread power cut on Friday for the first time in decades. It affected millions of people nationwide, sparing only the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north.
The Electricity Ministry said power generation from the national grid dropped at about 3am on Friday to about 4,000 megawatts from the average of 12,000 to 17,000MW.
Unstable electricity had been restored in most areas by the afternoon.
Iraq’s power demand can exceed 25,000MW in summer as the public switches on power-hungry air conditioning units.
That surge in demand quickly overwhelms the ailing power grid, which has suffered from militant attacks on electricity towers and a lack of investment linked to the misuse of funds allocated for the power sector.
Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq has spent at least $60 billion on the electricity sector, the country’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi told reporters last year.
Aside from money lost to corruption, much has been misallocated. Power stations have been built without consideration of adequate fuel supplies or whether the grid can handle the extra electricity, according to an International Energy Agency report.
Street vendors for ice cream, cold drinks and watermelon are dotted on Baghdad’s streets and intersections, for those who want to cool down.
Some shopkeepers have set up showers on the pavement.
“Parched? Get fresh and cold watermelon and juice,” reads a sign on Jumaa Kahlil Mohammed’s cart, where slices of watermelon are put on dishes, along with forks.
Next to the cart is a hand-operated orange press for fresh juice.
“Heat means money to us,” said Mohammed, 55, with a smile, his straw hat wet. “What else is better than cold watermelon and orange juice in this summer?”
Amid the pandemic, Hamid Tawfeeq Ali can no longer escape the summer in the southern province of Basra.
“Before coronavirus, we would travel to Turkey for at least a month, but now with the ongoing restrictions on travel we have no other option, only to wait for the water to be available to splash the kids,” Mr Ali said.
The Iraqi weather service said the country was under the influence of a seasonal Indian depression that caused the latest heatwave, which started on June 26 and lasted for five days.
“We were supposed to enter this heatwave in early June, but the winds from the Mediterranean delayed it,” weather service spokesman Amir Al Jabiri told The National.
The hardest-hit areas are in southern Iraq, where temperature ranges from 49 to 52°C, Mr Al Jabiri said.
Temperatures have since fallen by now down by 2 to 3°C across the country, he added.
The capital Baghdad reached 43°C on Monday, down from 50°C registered on Thursday, he said.
And the temperature now ranges from 45 to 48°C in the southern province of Basra and most of the southern provinces, he said.
However, he warned of a new heatwave starting from Thursday that could last for four days.