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Scorching heat, long power outages prompt Iraqis to protest

Widespread protests erupt in Iraq over power outages as temperatures hit 50°C and above
3 min read
24 June, 2024
Al-Sudani has authorised provincial governors to suspend public sector operations entirely on days when temperatures hit 50°C or higher.
Temperatures in Iraq reach half-boiling levels in several provinces. [Getty]

Iraq has shortened public office working hours by one hour amid a severe heatwave and prolonged power outages, which have triggered widespread public protests.

 Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced the emergency measure on Saturday to protect citizens from extreme temperatures and ongoing electricity shortages.

Starting Sunday, official working hours in Iraqi federal provinces, excluding Baghdad, will be from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., instead of the usual 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The change comes as temperatures reach 50°C (122°F) in several provinces, compounding the impact of frequent power outages.

Baghdad, which had already adjusted its working hours in April to ease traffic congestion, will now see further changes. Public sector employees in the capital will start work one hour earlier and finish two hours earlier.

Al-Sudani has authorised provincial governors to suspend public sector operations entirely on days when temperatures hit 50°C or higher. This decision is based on forecasts from Iraq’s meteorological agency, which predicted such extreme heat across seven provinces over the weekend.

The power outages have left many Iraqis without air conditioning or refrigeration during the hottest parts of the day, leading to growing public discontent. Demonstrators have taken to the streets, demanding urgent government action to restore electricity and alleviate the heat.

Despite significant investments in power infrastructure, Iraq continues to experience severe electricity shortages. Major cities endure power cuts lasting up to 10 hours daily, while rural areas face even longer outages. This issue highlights broader challenges of corruption and inefficiency within the country’s energy sector.

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Since the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, Iraq has struggled to provide stable electricity. The invasion resulted in a complex power-sharing system among various ethnic and sectarian groups, but successive governments have failed to address the persistent power shortages effectively.

Political analysts predict that protests against the government to pressure al-Sudani to resign. Al-Sudani, who plans to announce his candidacy for the upcoming parliamentary elections, has faced criticism that will intensify in July. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, backed by Iran, is expected to leverage public dissatisfaction from Maliki, who argues that al-Sudani should not use state resources for personal political gain.

In response to the crisis, several Iraqi lawmakers have signed a petition to summon the minister of electricity to address the issue. Protests that began on Sunday in the southern provinces reflect a growing demand for accountability and effective solutions to Iraq’s enduring power problems.

The Iraqi Health Ministry has advised the public to stay indoors and avoid direct sunlight during peak temperatures from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses amid the extreme weather and power issues.

Iraq faces severe climate challenges, including chronic water shortages, desertification, and declining rainfall, which exacerbate the impacts of extreme heat. 

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The New Arab Staff & Agencies