Iraqis mourn Nasiriyah hospital fire victims

Public frustration over government's lack of action on safety grows after second deadly blaze in months

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Anger mounted among Iraqis after a hospital fire killed more than 90 people on Tuesday, in one of the worst disasters the country has experienced in recent months.

The Iraqi authorities faced accusations of negligence from grieving relatives, friends and hospital staff at the scene of the deadly blaze at the Al Hussein coronavirus hospital in the city of Nasiriyah.

Those grieving for their loved ones cried openly and with anger as they placed blame for the fire on the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and corruption.

“People entered the hospital sick and left with their bodies burnt alive, or even just bones,” said Mujab Abdulrahman, 21, who witnessed the fire.

“I saw how people were rushing to save victims from the fire. It happened at night so people could not see the exit, firefighters were unable to reach the place,” he told The National.

Mr Mujab placed responsibility for the tragedy on the engineering department in Nasiriyah’s health directorate.

While the exact cause of the blaze remained unclear, local media reports suggested it broke out after an oxygen tank exploded.

“The hospital was built under poor conditions that did not follow the safety requirements set by international health standards,” he said.

Mr Mujab said he believes the official death toll is inaccurate and that the real number of fatalities is higher than the figure released by the government.

“I witnessed more than 25 people being killed within a couple of minutes,” he said, adding that he thought around 140 people had died in total.

Hours after the fire began rescue teams continued to search for those missing from the ward.

I'm crying for all the people who were killed, for the children, women and men, for everyone. We need to know what happened? Why did this happen?
Abbas Al Hadidi

Rescue workers and bystanders were seen lifting rubble and metal plates in the search for survivors and victims. Some were looking for body parts.

“What we are doing now should be done by a medical and forensic team, we are the ones looking for bones and raw flesh in this place,” Ali Al Rubaie, 46, told The National.

“Someone must be held accountable,” he said.

Abbas Al Hadidi was crying at the hospital’s front door. He did not have any relatives in the hospital but lives in the neighbourhood.

“The government did not do enough to protect these people,” he said.

“I'm crying for all the people who were killed, for the children, women and men, for everyone. We need to know what happened? Why did this happen?”

Rescuers and civilians look for bodies after a catastrophic blaze erupted at a hospital in Nasiriyah. AP

Mr Al Hadidi said he feared the incident would be forgotten about in a matter of days but urged authorities to do more to protect civilians.

It was Iraq’s second deadly hospital fire in three months, and the country’s president Barham Salih blamed corruption for both.

Citizens of Nasiriyah called on the government to step down.

“What has happened is a genocide. The Iraqi citizen has no rights, there is no investigation into the fire even though the government says it has opened one, but it’s all lies,” said Ahmed Hussein, 55.

“We are voiceless,” he said.

With additional reporting from Haider Husseini and Azhar Rubaie in Iraq.

Updated: July 13, 2021, 4:38 PM