Heat wave and fasting add to woes of Iraqis
BAGHDAD — Iraqis still live in a nation where bombings are a nearly daily occurrence, government paralysis is routine and corruption is de rigueur.
But having endured all of that, these beleaguered people are struggling with the convergence of two events that test even the extraordinary mettle of Iraqis: Ramadan has begun in the midst of a heat wave.
And it is not just any heat wave, but an Iraqi heat wave where it is over 120 degrees. One where stepping outside makes your lungs seize up and your face feel as if it is burning. It is so hot, even for this chronically hot country, that on Monday the Iraqi government took the unprecedented step of declaring a heat day, telling all government employees to stay home.
But that is only half of the challenge. During Ramadan, the faithful may not eat — or more important, drink — during daylight hours. That has prompted some to say they simply would have to skip the fast, even though it is one of the primary religious obligations for Muslims.
“It is impossible to fast and work with this heat, so I’m not fasting this year,” said Ahmed Kareem, 20, as he cleaned a broken engine. In many Muslim nations in the region, those fasting retreat to air-conditioned homes where they sleep for most of the day, rising in time to break the fast and feast all night. But in Iraq, there are just a few hours of electricity each day.
For some this has become too much, causing them to fall back into familiar ways of coping: concocting conspiracy theories, lashing out violently and stealing from their neighbors.
“These people are trying to humiliate Iraqis,” said Nawar Mohsen, 53, suggesting the United States was somehow behind the heat wave, or at least the lack of electricity. “They did that when they embarrassed us with sanctions, and now they are fighting every Iraqi in their houses by taking away their comfort.”
“Since I was born it was hot in July and August like this,” said Mohsen, who is the owner of a car painting shop. “But now there is no electricity and services from the government, so they need to make it seem like it’s hotter than usual to give them an excuse for not providing us with electricity.”
William J. Syrett, who teaches meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, said it was 124 degrees in Baghdad on Tuesday, matching an all-time high for the capital. In the southern city of Diwaniya, the temperature climbed to 126 degrees. Some records say the country’s all-time high is 126, while others say it is 131, he said.