Heatwaves scorch Iraq as long-running political crisis grows | News

Baghdad, Iraq – Under Iraq’s blistering summer heat, thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Green Zone for mass prayer on Friday.

Some wrapped their faces in water-soaked cloths, others brought bottled water to pour over their heads, many carried umbrellas – all in an attempt to bring some relief from the scorching heat.

As the sun scorched the crowds of thousands crammed into the mostly uncovered square in central Baghdad, some began to faint.

“It was so hot,” Haafez Alobaidi told Al Jazeera after the call to prayer the influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

“When the air was still, I felt like I was being baked in an oven,” Alobaidi said.

“When the breeze was blowing, it felt like a hair dryer was blowing in my face … full force,” he said.

“You thought living in Iraq would get you used to that time, but no, no human being should live in that time.”

Heat waves sweep across Iraq.

Temperatures soared to nearly 50 degrees Celsius in Baghdad almost every day, and in the southern city of Basra, temperatures approached 53 degrees – dangerously high in a country that has a chronic lack of basic infrastructure and services and is also mired in political crisis.

Every summer, Iraq experiences heat waves of varying intensity, and this year is no exception.

But this year, the intense heat has also been exacerbated by a simmering political crisis: a parliamentary deadlock that has paralyzed the country, including leaving Iraq without a state budget to properly allocate costs for basic services such as electricity supply.

Since last year’s parliamentary elections, Iraq has lasted more than 300 days without a government.

“All about Muqtada!”

Despite winning the most seats in parliament, al-Sadr was unable to form a government to his liking. He later withdrew his representatives from parliament, leading to a political stalemate.

Al-Sadr has recently flirted with the idea of ​​holding new elections. His supporters stormed the parliament building last weekend in Baghdad and remain in occupation there, further complicating the political crisis.

Alobaidi, who took part in Friday’s mass prayer and also helped storm parliament, said the effort almost caused him to suffer heat stroke.

Asked why he continued to protest in such blazing heat, Alobaidi raised his hand and said: “all for Muqtada!”

Against the backdrop of hot days and a heated political crisis, there is a caretaker government, which by law cannot set a budget, including for the country’s critical electricity sector.

Currently leading this government since May 2020, Mustafa al-Kadhimi is severely limited in what he can do with the state’s finances.

On May 15, Iraq’s Federal Supreme Court ruled that the current caretaker government can only implement projects based on last year’s budget and only on a pro rata monthly basis.

Iraq, an oil-rich country, is exporting record amounts of oil and generating increasing revenue for the country due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and global oil turbulence.

However, with constraints on budget allocations due to the political impasse, the government has been unable to tap into the growing reserves of wealth accumulated in recent months as government ministries grapple with budget deficits.

Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity recently declared a state of emergency as the country continues to struggle with peak summer power demands and a less than adequate power supply.

The ministry announced on July 30 that it had achieved an unprecedented level of supply with electricity generation reaching 23.25 gigawatts, still far behind the amount of energy people need to cope with the harsh summer. According to the ministry, electricity demand in the summer of 2022 will reach a record of 34.18 gigawatts.

“It’s just impossible to do anything”

There are several reasons for the power shortage, said Yasser al-Malaki, an energy economist and Gulf analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey.

“[There are] old power plants that are facing mechanical difficulties, or plants that are supposed to run on gas but are now running on liquid oil,” al-Malaki told Al Jazeera.

“But at the same time, the ministry is simply not prepared for the summer demands because they don’t have the budget.

“What are they going to do for the summer of 2023, when demand is going to increase – are we going through a few hundred more days without a government?” he asked.

The lack of adequate electricity is being felt in Iraqi society, where many are deprived of the means to cool down as temperatures rise.

In the southern provinces of Iraq, including Basra, on the evening of August 5, when the temperature remained above 40 degrees Celsius, a fault hit the Basra power line supplying Nasiriyah, causing a complete shutdown of all power plants in Basra. The city was plunged into darkness before electricity was gradually restored in the early hours of August 6.

There is also a permanent shortage of electricity in the capital. In Baghdad’s northeastern Mustansiriya district, for example, the national grid has been able to provide households with only about six to eight hours of electricity each day, according to a number of residents.

For wealthier families, private generators can fill power gaps. The cost of running generators varies depending on how much power is consumed, but many people who spoke to Al Jazeera said they could spend between $100 and $150 a month for a relatively stable power supply.

Ahmad al-Zangana, a resident of the area, said he uses a generator to keep the air conditioner running at night.

“But it costs me $150 a month – I only do this in the summer because it’s too expensive,” he said.

For the vast majority, paying such a high price for privately generated electricity is not an option. They have to find ways to take the heat.

A boy pours water in his Muqtada al-Sadr congregation for mass Friday prayers on August 5, 2022. [Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters]
A boy pours water on his face as people gather for mass Friday prayers on August 5, 2022. [Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters]

Yasser Zalzali, along with his wife and two children, sat in Abu Nuwas Park on the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad as the midday heat began to subside.

Watching his children play in the water, Zalzali recounted how his house’s electricity supply had dwindled to just four hours a day.

It was almost 8 in the evening and the temperature was still 44 degrees Celsius.

“It’s just impossible to do anything in the house,” he said as he used a magazine as a fan to generate some breeze.

“We come here every night just to leave the heat trapped in our house.”

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