Iraqis are enduring the hottest day so far this year, with temperatures soaring up to 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) in Baghdad and as much as 53 degrees Celsius (127 Fahrenheit) in the southern part of the country.

The government has given its workers Wednesday and Thursday off because of the heat wave, which is expected to break on Sunday. Friday and Saturday is the weekend in Iraq as in most Arab countries.

Iraq's summers are known for their merciless heat, but the government's chief weather forecaster Hassan Abdul-Karim says these highs are well above average for this time of year.

He says growing desertification in the last five years has been consistently pushing temperatures up.