Death of six children in Iraq lorry accident sparks anger

Iraqis blame widespread corruption and neglect for the fatal accident in southern province of Basra

At least six children killed as lorry hits group of school pupils in southern Iraq

At least six children killed as lorry hits group of school pupils in southern Iraq
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The death of six children in a road accident in southern Iraq caused outrage, with Iraqis blaming government corruption and neglect for putting lives at risk.

Pupils in the town of Haritha in Basra province were hit by a refrigerator lorry as they crossed the road on Tuesday. Six pupils were killed and at least 14 others were injured by the vehicle, with some of the schoolchildren in critical condition with severe head injuries, hospital officials said.

The Interior Ministry said the lorry's brakes failed, preventing the driver from stopping it from ploughing into the pupils. The driver was arrested, the ministry added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani ordered an immediate investigation into the incident, his office said. Local authorities in Basra declared a three-day period of mourning.

People took to the streets in Basra on Tuesday night, demanding better infrastructure and improved safety measures.

Salma Albu Bsairi, a school principal in Haritha, said road accidents take place in the same place every year.

“Haritha is neglected,” she said at the protest. “The local government doesn’t take care of us, they leave the pupils crossing the streets without any safety measures.

“The pupils and their families are suffering. If nothing happens, we will shake Basra."

Basra is Iraq’s second-largest city and sits on about 70 per cent of the country’s proven oil reserves of an estimated 153 billion barrels. It borders Iran and Kuwait and is the country’s only outlet to the Arabian Gulf.

But like other parts of Iraq, infrastructure in the city is in disrepair. Many roads are marked with potholes and lack lighting owing to decades of war, neglect and endemic corruption.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraqis across the country have been holding pro-reform protests to demand improvements, including better infrastructure, public services and an end to corruption.

“There are two criminals that killed them: the driver and the state,” Nadhah Al Eidani said in a video posted on X while he waited outside the morgue after the accident. Four of his children – three boys and one girl – were killed.

“We have been calling for a footbridge that doesn’t cost 10 million Iraqi dinars [$7,500].”

Every day, families rush to the school to help the children cross the street, he added.

The UN children's agency said it was “deeply saddened" by the incident. “Our deepest condolences go out to all those affected by this heartbreaking loss,” Unicef said in a statement.

More than 4,900 people were killed in road accidents in Iraq in 2022, according to Health Ministry figures. Officials often blame drivers for ignoring the speed limit, using their phones behind the wheel, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A security camera showed a crowd of pupils crossing the street when the driver lost control and ran over them before the lorry overturned. Footage on social media showed bloodstained bags and shoes littering the pavement as people rushed to the scene.

Updated: April 03, 2024, 10:42 AM