BAGHDAD (AP) — Demonstrators blocked roads as protests broke out in southern Iraq on Monday after power outages left many without electricity during scorching peak summer heat.
Temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), nearly matching last year's record high. Southern provinces, where the heat wave is most intense in Iraq, suspended working hours.
The Electricity Ministry last week announced a state of alert, anticipating outages as temperatures rise.
In the oil-rich province of Basra, dozens of people took to the streets for a third straight day and burned tires, blocking the main road to the provincial capital, to protest the power cuts.
While protests against power cuts took place in the south, the followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr entered their ninth day of a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament building to demand early elections.
Many protesters in Basra said they supported al-Sadr's protest and demands and said they were tired of rampant government corruption. Protests in the south are common in the summer. In 2018, protests over the lack of basic services turned violent. In 2019, they paved the way for mass anti-government demonstrations in the capital.
“It's not the first time we protest and it won't be the last,” said Ali Hussein, 35, in Basra. “We are continuing our protests for electricity and water, which are very basic demands.”
Of al-Sadr, Hussein said: “We support him, and we ask that he punish the corrupt.”
The protests erupted after the collapse of the electricity grid in six southern provinces due to excessive demand amid high temperatures. Basra Gov. Asaad Al Eidani said the latest outages were due to a fire at a power station.
In the holy city of Najaf, a weapons depot exploded in the heat. It had belonged to the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sanctioned network of paramilitary groups.
Protesters began their sit-in at 3 a.m. Monday, frustrated and unable to sleep in the heat without electricity.
Iraq relies on neighboring Iran to meet nearly a third of its energy needs during peak summer months. Iraq, a top oil exporter, has the resources to meet energy needs but suffers from a lack of investment in the infrastructure needed to capture its natural gas resources.