At least 100 killed as fire rips through wedding party in Iraq

September 27, 2023

BAGHDAD — At least 100 people have died and 150 others are injured after a fire broke out during a wedding in Iraq's biggest Christian town.

Hundreds were celebrating in a banqueting hall in Qaraqosh in Nineveh province when it happened. The disaster was set off by fireworks, candles, and other materials used during the celebration, the Iraqi Civil Defense said.

Nineveh governor Najm Al-Jubouri told the Iraqi state news agency INA that the injured were transferred to hospitals in Nineveh and the Kurdistan region.

“There is no final count of the deceased and injured yet,” Al-Jubouri said, according to INA.

Videos from the scene show thick smoke billowing out of the Al Haytham Wedding Hall while crowds and ambulances gather outside.

A wedding guest told local media that the bride and groom were safe but devastated.

“The bride and groom are fine. I was just with them now, but their condition is devastating due to what happened to people here,” the guest told the private Iraqi channel Alawla TV.

Footage posted online showed the couple on the dance floor before flaming chunks began falling onto the dance floor.

Firefighters could be seen climbing over the wreckage of the building in search of survivors on Wednesday morning.

Eyewitnesses said hundreds of people had been in the venue when it caught fire at around 22:45 local time (19:45 GMT) on Tuesday.

"We saw the fire pulsating, coming out of the hall. Those who managed got out and those who didn't got stuck. Even those who made their way out were broken," Imad Yohana, a 34-year-old who escaped the inferno, told Reuters.

Another wedding guest, Rania Waad, who sustained a burn to her hand, said that as the bride and groom were slow dancing "fireworks started to climb to the ceiling, the whole hall went up in flames".

"We couldn't see anything," the 17-year-old told news agency AFP. "We were suffocating, we didn't know how to get out."

Another survivor said several members of his family were among the victims.

"When it [the fire] happened my mother was in the bathroom," he said.

"I couldn't find her after. I searched for my daughter, my son, my wife, my father and I couldn't find them. They are gone."

The wedding hall where the fire broke out was covered with highly flammable Ecobond panels that violated safety instructions requirements, according to the Iraqi Civil Defense.

“The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when fire breaks out,” the Civil Defense statement said.

Iraq's prime minister posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he had told officials to "mobilize all efforts to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate incident".

Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani has been in touch with the Nineveh governor by telephone about the incident and ordered a full mobilization to aid the victims, according to his office.

The number of reported victims is unclear. The deputy governor of Nineveh, Hassan al-Allaq, told Reuters that 113 people had been confirmed dead, while the Red Crescent humanitarian group put the total number of dead and injured at nearly 450.

The regional governor told INA the number of deaths and injuries could rise.

The injured have been transferred to hospitals across the Nineveh region. At the main hospital in Qaraqosh, which is about 15km (9 miles) east of the region's capital Mosul, dozens of people arrived to donate blood to help the injured. Qaraqosh is also known as al-Hamdaniya and Bakhdida in Iraq.

An Iraqi journalist in the city of Erbil, where victims are also being treated, told the BBC there were not sufficient "logistical tools to rescue the people" and that Mosul did not have enough ambulances, staff and medical equipment.

"Local officials of Mosul, they all blame the Iraqi government because they didn't solve the problem of hospitals, and generally, the problem of the health sector in Mosul after the ISIS (Islamic State group) occupation of the city," added Blesa Shaways.

Mosul was liberated from three years of IS rule in 2017 following a brutal fight that left the city in ruins.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq expressed its condolences to family members of those killed and injured Tuesday, calling the incident “an immense tragedy.”

“Shocked and pained by the horrible loss of life and injuries in the fire,” the mission said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Iraqi government issued a three-day national mourning period following the blaze.

Some media reports have said the couple held a Christian wedding, though this has not been confirmed.

Qaraqosh was the biggest Christian town in Iraq before it was overrun by IS in 2014 and most people fled from persecution.

About half of Qaraqosh's residents are said to have returned since the town was liberated but many of the destroyed homes have yet to be rebuilt. — Agencies

September 27, 2023
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