Iraqi merchants struggle on amid series of strong sandstorms

A man pushes a cart during a sandstorm in Baghdad on Monday.

BAGHDAD (AP) — The thick layer of dust blanketing the sky did not deter Muhammed Ghalib from walking to work in Baghdad’s main commercial district on Monday, as the latest in an unrelenting series of intense sandstorms swept Iraq.

The dust coated his eyelashes a shade of orange. He arrived at 4 a.m., the height of the storm, and sat outside his stall by the street to sell household goods in the capital’s Shorja market. “Life goes on,” he said.

Ghalib was among the merchants in the capital who did not heed public warnings Monday to stay indoors because of poor weather conditions, lamenting financial losses and hardship amid ongoing economic woes. The Health Ministry said there were at least 1,700 cases of severe respiratory complaints in Baghdad on Monday because of the storm.

There have been at least eight sandstorms in Iraq since April, according to officials. They have landed thousands of Iraqis in hospitals with severe breathing difficulties and at least one person died, according to Iraq’s Health Ministry, which declared a state of emergency.

Monday’s sandstorm killed two people in neighboring Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour along the border with Iraq, according to official news agency SANA. The agency said hundreds of people were taken to hospitals after suffering breathing problems, adding that the dead were a father and his son in Deir el-Zour.

Sham FM radio reported that a young man suffocated in the village of Al-Harijia north of Deir el-Zour.

Dust storms are a seasonal occurrence in Iraq but their frequency this year has alarmed experts who blame drought, rapid desertification and climate change.