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 Protesters in Baghdad on Friday. High temperatures have made the lack of reliable electricity a bigger political issue than usual. Credit Mohammed Jalil/European Pressphoto Agency

As Heat Wave Sweeps Iraq, Thousands Demand Water, Electricity, Sustenance

Mass marches against government failure and corruption sweep Iraq's capital and southern cities

Sarah Lazare

As temperatures in Iraq climbed this week over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest dangerous power cuts, clean water shortages, poor living conditions—and the government corruption and theft they say is to blame.

Prominent media personalities and academics put out the call for a Friday mobilization in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, and thousands took heed, marching, carrying signs, and at one point shutting down traffic in the Iraqi capital.

"Young people, thirsty for an opportunity to gather outside the rhetoric of political parties, and their sectarian criminal agenda, rushed to the city's main square to demand better living conditions, chanting, 'In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us," Ahmed Habib,  editor for the Iraqi digital magazine, told Common Dreams.

Protests continue to spread throughout Iraq's south, with hundreds marching through the cities of Basra and Karbala and more demonstrations slated for Sunday in Babil.

"We have started this protest and will continue until services are improved, especially electricity," Abdelhalim Yasser, an activist and march organizer n Karbala, told Agence France-Presse. "If this political class failed to improve the situation in 12 years, then they should resign, because we are running out of patience."

"The local government is always promising improved water and electricity but they are liars and no longer have any credibility," Ziyad Tareq, a 24-year-old student protesting in Basra, told AFP. "The temperature is [129 degrees Fahrenheit] in central Basra right now... the Basra people are very angry at their rulers."

Years of U.S.-led sanctions on Iraq, followed by the 2003 invasion and occupation, severely damaged the country's infrastructure, including the power grid. Today, Iraqi households only receive an average of seven hours of electricity every day, creating dangerous conditions during this summer's relentless heat wave.

While those who can afford it purchase gasoline-powered generators, ordinary people are left with few options. Meanwhile, over three million people in Iraq have been displaced by ongoing war and conflict, and growing numbers lack access to adequate shelter and protection from the elements. Meanwhile, temperatures have reached such scorching highs that the government imposed a four-day holiday starting Thursday.

"As many people know, civil society in Iraq has been under a sustained attack for several decades," emphasized Habib, who was born in Baghdad but now lives abroad. "Dictatorship, wars, sanctions and occupation have created intolerable conditions for citizens to organize within their communities or on a national level around the issues that mean the most to them, those issues revolving around the provision of the basic means of sustenance."

"Despite these undemocratic conditions, rife with sectarianism and violence, corruption and theft," Habib continued, "the people of Iraq have always remained outspoken in their opposition to the systemic destruction of their country, whether it is on social media, in coffee shops, or in the public squares of Iraq, protesting and demanding better living conditions for themselves and their families."

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