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When the car is where you cool off, the A/C has to purr

Times Staff Writer

When a roadside bomb shattered rear and side windows of Mohammed Adhami’s Chevy Lumina minivan, he faced a dilemma: Should he spend hundreds of dollars to replace the glass or fix the car’s air conditioner before the unbearable summer heat arrives?

Adhami opted to spend his limited money on A/C. On a recent spring day, with the temperature already hitting 95 degrees, he was one of scores of customers at White Palace in downtown Baghdad, an air-conditioning shop for vehicles and one of the busiest spots in the capital as the temperature begins to rise.

Transparent nylon could replace the windows, he reasoned, but there’s no substitute for good air conditioning.

Welcome to summer in Baghdad, still weeks away according to the calendar but already here judging by the thermometer. Daytime temperatures can top 120 in the months ahead, and having a car without A/C is not only unthinkable but dangerous.

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Between the heat, the dust and the dry air, staying cool in the summer is a daily struggle -- one that can mean the difference between life and death. It’s so bad that many Iraqis, who because of shortages don’t get enough electricity at home to run an air conditioner, use their cars as havens.

“The heat is unbearable -- very, very hot and no electricity,” said Abu Ahmed, whose 1991 Oldsmobile was being worked on at White Palace. “It’s not getting any better, and that’s why I’m fixing my car. It will be the only place I have some cool weather. The gasoline is expensive, but we have no choice.”

Iraq’s energy supply can’t keep up with demand, and demand soars in summer when people with home air conditioners use them. Most Baghdad residents enjoy only four hours of electricity a day. If they want more, they run generators, but that means buying fuel to power them.

Hassan Jawad, a 25-year-old college student, said he bought his 1995 Hyundai Elantra in part because the model has a reputation for an effective air conditioner. He too was having White Palace repair the system so that he, his wife and their young daughter would be ready for the summer heat.

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He worries about his little girl getting dehydrated and says he also becomes exhausted from the heat. “I paid about $200 to fix my conditioner today, but it’s worth every penny,” Jawad said.

Adhami, the Chevy driver who escaped the recent bomb blast, was matter of fact about his decision to fix his air conditioner rather than the windows. The 49-year-old explained that with transparent industrial nylon and adhesive tape, he was able to re-create windows and keep the outside air from blowing into the van. That left him the money he needed to ensure he remained cool while driving.

“I’ll add some refrigerant to my car and be on my way,” Adhami said.

White Palace has been in business in Baghdad since before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Even when security is iffy, business remains good, said Ahmed Khudair, the owner.

Khudair estimates there are more than 150 car air-conditioning repairmen across Baghdad in scores of shops. “But still, the cars are so many that they have to wait in line to get their turn,” he said.


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