BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqis on Wednesday endured the hottest day so far this year, with temperatures soaring up to 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) in Baghdad and as much as 53 degrees Celsius (127 Fahrenheit) in the southern part of the country.
The government has given its workers Wednesday and Thursday off because of the heat wave, which is expected to break on Sunday. Friday and Saturday are the weekend in Iraq as in most Arab countries.
Iraq's summers are known for their merciless heat, but the government's chief weather forecaster Hassan Abdul-Karim said this week's highs were well above average for this time of year. A similarly unforgiving heat wave was expected next month, he told The Associated Press.
Desertification over the past five years, he explained, has driven temperatures up.
High summer temperatures routinely compound the woes of Iraqis, who have since the U.S.-led invasion 13 years ago had to cope with almost daily violence, political instability, poor services, a massive exodus abroad of professionals and high rates of serious crime like kidnappings for ransom, armed robberies and contract killings.
The current heat wave is scorching Baghdad as the city continues to reel from the deadliest — nearly 300 killed — single bombing in 13 years on July 3 and lengthy power cuts that leave most homes without electricity for a total of 12 hours a day, forcing them to buy power from privately-owned neighborhood generators.
But just as Iraqis have shown resilience and ingenuity in dealing with the violence, they do likewise when it comes to exceptionally hot days.
"There is no electricity and temperature is very high, so we came to this swimming pool as it is the only way to cool ourselves," said Ammar Adnan, sitting on the edge of the recently opened indoor pool in Baghdad's al-Azamaiyah district.
"We will stay here until the evening, when we hope the temperature will get down," he said.
A few miles away in central Baghdad's busy Sinak market, Kazim Ali was doing a brisk business off his pink-and-purple stand, selling sweaty shoppers cocktails of soda mixed with a syrup of sugar, vinegar and mint for 1,000 dinars (85 US cents) a glass.
"I never raise my prices when it is this hot, but the guy who sells me the ice charged me 50 percent more today," lamented Kazim.
Street hawkers, some covering their faces with handkerchiefs to keep off the heat, sold slices of cold watermelon or broke a sweat pumping air into children's plastic pools they hoped to sell. Some storekeepers were merciful to shoppers, setting up showers on the sidewalk that men stood under without hesitation to cool off.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.