Baghdad, Iraq – Under Iraq’s blistering summer heat, thousands gathered in Baghdad’s Green Zone on Friday for mass prayer.
Some wrapped their faces in cloths soaked in water, others brought bottled water to pour over their heads, many carried umbrellas – all in an effort to bring some relief from the scorching heat.
As the sun set on the thousands of people gathered in the largely uncovered square in central Baghdad, some began to pass out.
“It was so hot,” Haafez Alobaidi told Al Jazeera after the prayer of influential Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
“When the air was still, I felt like I was being roasted in an oven,” Alobaidi said.
“When there was a breeze, it felt like a hair dryer was blowing in my face… full blast,” he said.
“You thought living in Iraq would get you used to this kind of weather, but no, no one should have to live in this weather.”
Heat waves are sweeping Iraq.
Temperatures have soared nearly daily in Baghdad to nearly 50 degrees Celsius, and in the southern city of Basra, temperatures have soared nearly 53 degrees — dangerously high in a country chronically lacking in basic infrastructure and services, as well as embroiled in a 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 heated political crisis: a deadlock in parliament that has paralyzed the country, including leaving Iraq without a government budget to properly allocate spending to essential services such as electricity supply.
Iraq has been without a government for more than 300 days since last year’s parliamentary elections.
“Anything for Muqtada!”
Although al-Sadr won the most seats in parliament, he failed to form a government to his liking. He later withdrew his representatives from parliament, resulting in a political stalemate.
Al-Sadr recently flirted with the idea of holding elections again. His supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad last weekend and remain occupied there, further complicating the political crisis.
Alobaidi, who took part in the massage bed on Friday and also helped storm parliament, said the effort nearly gave him heatstroke.
When asked why he continued to protest in such blazing heat, Alobaidi raised his arm and said, “Anything for Muqtada!”
Against this backdrop of scorching days and a heated political crisis, there is a caretaker government that, in accordance with the law, cannot set a budget, including for the country’s critical electricity sector.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi has headed that government since May 2020 and is severely limited in what he can do with state finances.
On May 15, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court ruled that the current caretaker government could only implement projects based on the budget set for last year, and only on a monthly pro rata basis.
Iraq, an oil-rich country, is exporting record amounts of oil and generating increasing revenues for the country as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the global oil turbulence.
However, with budget allocation restrictions due to the political deadlock, the government is unable to tap into the growing wealth reserves built up in recent months as ministries across the government grapple with budget deficits.
The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity recently declared a state of emergency as the country continues to struggle with peak power demand in the summer and an insufficient power supply.
The ministry announced on July 30 that it had reached an unprecedented level of supply with power production of 23.25 gigawatts, which is still far behind the amount of power people need to cope with the harsh summer. According to the ministry, electricity demand will reach a record high of 34.18 gigawatts in the summer of 2022.
‘Just impossible to do anything’
There are several causes of the power shortages, said Yaser al-Maleki, an energy economist and Gulf analyst with the Middle East Economic Survey.
“[There are] old power plants that have mechanical problems, or plants that are supposed to run on gas but now run on liquid oil,” al-Maleki told Al Jazeera.
“But at the same time, the ministry is just not prepared for the summer demands because they don’t have a budget.
“What are they going to do for the summer of 2023 when demand gets higher – are we going to go on for a few more hundred days without a government?” he asked.
The lack of adequate power is felt throughout Iraqi society, where many have been deprived of the means to keep cool as temperatures rise.
In the southern provinces of Iraq, including Basra, on the evening of August 5, when temperatures remained above 40 degrees Celsius, a failure occurred in the Basra power line that fed Nasiriya, leading to a complete shutdown of all Basra power plants. . The city was plunged into darkness before power gradually returned in the early hours of August 6.
There is also an ongoing power shortage in the capital. In the Mustansiriyah district in northeastern Baghdad, for example, the national grid has been able to supply electricity for only six to eight hours a day, according to some residents.
For wealthy families, private generators can fill in the power gaps. The cost of running generators varies depending on how much energy is used, but many people who spoke to Al Jazeera said they could spend between $100 and $150 a month for a relatively stable electricity supply.
Ahmad al-Zangana, a resident of the district, said he uses a generator to run an air conditioner at night.
“But that 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 self-generated electricity is not an option. They have to find ways to endure the heat.
Yaser Zalzaly sat with his wife and two children in Abu Nuwas Park on the banks of the Tigris River in central Baghdad after the midday heat had abated.
Watching his children play in the water, Zalzaly told how the electricity supply in his home had dwindled to just four hours a day.
It was almost 8 pm and the temperature was still 44 degrees Celsius.
“It’s just impossible to do anything in the house,” he said, using a magazine as a fan to generate some wind.
“We come here every night to leave the heat in our house.”