Iraqi policeman Ziad Radi is no stranger to hot weather, but his sun-blasted face is testament that even for seasoned Iraqis, the weather on Thursday was almost too hot to bear.
Radi spends eight hours a day patrolling Baghdad’s Karradah neighborhood – braving temperatures that on Thursday soared above 51 degrees Celsius (123 Fahrenheit). Add to the mix Ramadan, the holy month when he and many Muslims go from sunrise to sunset without food or water, and you have a recipe for some serious problems.
”Heat or no heat, this is my responsibility,” he said, taking shelter in the shade during a lighter wave of traffic in Baghdad’s iconic Firdous Square. ”Normally, I drink a lot of water but, thank God, I am fasting now, so I just have to try to keep going.”
The government declared Thursday an official holiday due to scorching temperatures. Health authorities have warned people not to expose themselves to the sun, with hospitals already receiving an overwhelming number of heat-related cases.
The heat adds an extra burden for the thousands of Iraqi soldiers and government-affiliated militiamen combatting Islamic State militants, and also for the estimated 3 million people in Iraq displaced from their homes by the fight against the IS group.
With Eid-al-Fitr, commemorating the end of Ramadan, only a day away here in Iraq, the day off meant a jumpstart on the holiday weekend. But few are celebrating the extra day off, with rampant power and water cuts making it unbearable indoors as well.
Billions of dollars have been spent trying to fix Iraq’s power grids since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and yet many Iraqis, including those in the capital, can receive as few as eight hours of power per day at the height of summer.
For Hussein Hazim and his school-age friends, that means spending the summer cooling off in the Tigris River. ”It is too hot and there is no electricity,” he said. ”So after sunrise, we come here to cool off ourselves due to high temperatures.”
Zena Abbas said she would normally sleep these hot Ramadan days away, but the holidays are too busy a time to lounge at home. With six relatives, including her in-laws, coming to spend the Eid weekend with her, she and her daughter had to make several trips to the grocery store on foot to stock up on food.
”What can we do? Life cannot stop for the heat,” she said.
Meteorologists warn that the heat could continue through the weekend in central and southern Iraq. But Iraqis are used to getting on with life, even in the most difficult circumstances.
In Karradah, someone erected a random sidewalk shower nozzle connected to a hose to offer relief; passers-by, including military soldiers, drenched themselves before setting out again in the heat. Shops selling special fans that spray water often showcase their merchandize on sidewalks across the city, with pedestrians occasionally stopping to take a closer look – or cool off.
But Mohammed Azim might have one of the toughest jobs around. The 22-year old makes masgoof – a type of smoked fish dubbed the national dish of Iraq – spending these long, hot summer days standing in front of open flames. He confesses he can’t do his job while fasting.
”I need to drink water,” he admitted. ”If you are fasting in this heat then God help you!”