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Iraq declares first-ever heat holiday, closes government offices

It was so hot in Iraq on Monday that the country declared its first-ever “heat day.”

Iraq’s central government shuttered its offices and sent public-sector workers home across most of the country as temperatures surpassed 122 degrees Fahrenheit and Muslims began fasting to mark the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Television news programs began announcing the closures Sunday night — just as American newscasts might inform viewers of snow days. The closures apply to government offices in the Baghdad region, Diyala province in central Iraq and all southern provinces — including Iraq’s second-largest city, Basra. Government offices in the northern Kurdistan region remain open, thanks to slightly cooler temperatures (110 degrees) and the region’s more reliable electricity supply.

Local residents and officials said they could not recall the government ever before closing due to excessive heat. The nation’s schools are not affected, because children are on summer vacation.

In some cases, residents said they fought the heat and power shortages Sunday night by sleeping half-naked in pools of water thrown on the floors of their bedrooms.

Monday’s high temperatures also taxed Iraq’s already-fragile national electricity grid, which historically suffers in the summer. Some fueling stations in Baghdad reported shortages, meaning many people went without the fuel needed to power personal electricity generators. Price spikes at some pumps in Baghdad forced customers to pay roughly $18 for 20 liters of fuel, double the normal price.

Salam Solyman, head of the Iraqi Meteorological Office, told local news agencies that temperatures would remain at or above 120 degrees through Thursday before returning to “normal levels,” around 110 degrees.

The Iraqi Health Ministry called on citizens to avoid direct exposure to the sun and to take other emergency steps as necessary.

Despite the closures, the Iraqi Parliament, which has reliable air conditioning, remained in session Monday. But the heat forced the postponement of a meeting between President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other top officials, who were set to discuss several lingering domestic political issues and the potential presence of U.S. military forces in the country beyond December.

Alwan is a special correspondent.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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