Iraqis Find Reprieve in a Grisly Summer: It's Only 108° Out

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BAGHDAD -- For many of the weary residents of this city, who have faced a bloody summer of explosions at soccer fields, cafes and open markets resulting in Iraq's highest death toll in five years, there are only small things for which to be grateful. Like the weather.

"Thank God this summer hasn't been tough on us this year," said Nisreen Mohammed, a schoolteacher in Baghdad. "Maybe it is the mercy of God to compensate us for what we suffer."

It was 108 degrees on Thursday.

For a Baghdad summer, that counts as temperate, and a divine gift.

Iraqis, who hold to their faith at times of trouble and are inclined to see their agonies as a matter of fate, see the cooler weather -- even if in most places it would count as an oppressive heat wave -- as a small gesture from God. In Baghdad, summer usually arrives early and stays late, and, like the frequent bombings, inflicts its hardships indiscriminately: overheated cars, restless nights, flared tempers. The heat, especially during the recent holy month of Ramadan when most Iraqis fasted during the day, gives an extra edge to the usual torments of life here.

But not this year. "Although there are many explosions, you can still see that the streets are crowded," said Dawood Shakir Mahmoud, who as the director general of the Iraqi Meteorological and Seismology Organization is Iraq's chief weatherman. "They all feel comfortable about the weather."

According to government statistics, the average daily high temperature in July was 109 degrees, compared with about 115 degrees in July last year. It may seem like a small difference, but to Iraqis it feels like a reprieve, especially compared with the extreme highs of recent summers, when temperatures sometimes climbed well above 120 degrees.

When it is over 120, "people will be nervous and intense," said Saad Faraj, the director of the climate department at the meteorological organization. "When it's cooler, they deal better with people. You can feel the difference this year with the weather."

That Mr. Faraj has noticed a discernible improvement in people's moods because of the weather is more remarkable when considered in the context of the rising violence: more than 820 people were killed during Ramadan, according to Agence France-Presse, and violence continued on Saturday with a series of car bombings as Iraqis celebrated Id al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Mr. Faraj said, "If there were both," explosions and extreme weather, "it would be a disaster."

So for Iraqis, the relatively cooler weather, despite exceeding 100 degrees every day, has allowed a small space in which to enjoy more prosaic pleasures, even amid the rising fear of explosions and the hassles of traffic jams caused by new security operations and checkpoints. Some say they can enjoy ice cream outside without it instantly melting, and women joke that their makeup does not smear so easily.

"This is bearable heat and I can live with it," said Ahmed Talal, who works in a cafe in the Zayouna neighborhood. "I remember last year no one wanted to sit out in the garden of the cafe. They preferred to sit inside next to the air cooler. But now with this lovely weather everyone sits outside and smokes hookah and drinks chai."

Stuck in unmoving traffic, Iraqis now are less apt to shut off their cars to allow them to cool off, and many say they are sleeping better.

"I remember last summer, while I was asleep and the power would go off, I used to wake up immediately because of the heat," said Sarah Mohammed, a government worker. "Now it's better at night. I just open the window and it's cool."

Abu Husain, an air-conditioner technician, says he has less work this year fixing overworked units, but he will gladly take less work for more personal comfort. During a scorcher of a summer last year, he said, "more people were coming to us asking us to fix their devices, and we had to work day and night, and sometimes appointments took more than a week."

He added, "I hope this summer will continue like this until the end of the season."

For Mr. Mahmoud and Mr. Faraj, the government weather forecasters, the moderate climate has meant that people are nicer to them. As Mr. Mahmoud walks around his neighborhood, or the campus of Baghdad University where he supervises research, or visits restaurants where he is known, he said people have told him, " 'Thanks for this summer.' They feel like I made it cooler."

There seems to be only one downside to the forgiving summer: temperatures have not climbed high enough for the government to declare a heat holiday, as it normally does when the mercury rises above 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Last year there were four such holidays.

But most Iraqis are content to miss a few days off in exchange for temperatures that merely creep above 100.

"It is the only good thing happening in Iraq," said Qutaiba Hazem, a government employee in the capital. "I hope the government does not take credit for it."

Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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