What should have been an occasion for celebration turned into a terrible tragedy. The sinking of an overcrowded ferry crossing the Tigris during Nowruz, the Persian new year, claimed the lives of 102 men, women and children, with another 60 still missing. A heartwrenching video of the capsized ferry in Mosul last Thursday showed victims – mostly women and children - being swept away by strong currents while onlookers stood helpless on the river's banks, with some trying desperately to pull passengers from the water.
This is the biggest disaster to befall a war-scarred city that has yet to heal its wounds since its liberation from ISIS in July 2017. At the heart of the questions which are being asked in the wake of the tragedy is why so many people were allowed to board a ferry with a capacity of 50. Reports have suggested as many as five times that number were on board. Most of the casualties could not swim, according to Husam Khalil, head of Mosul's Civil Defence Authority. While Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Al Mahdi’s demand for an immediate inquiry into the cause of the incident is to be welcomed, a thorough investigation must be followed by swift action and stricter regulations to prevent such a disaster from happening again and anyone found to be negligent or responsible must be held accountable to send a strong message that profits can never come before lives. So far, 16 people have been arrested and warrants have been issued for the owners of the vessel and the site.
Bereaved Moslawis are understandably angry. Protesters greeted Iraqi President Barham Saleh with abuse as he arrived at the site of the sinking while others attacked the motorcade of controversial Mosul governor Nofal Al Agub, chanting: "Corruption is killing us". Mr Al Mahdi has already called on parliament to sack him and his deputies due to "the obvious negligence and dereliction in performing duties and responsibility" and the evidence of "misuse of public funds and abuse of power". If any wrongdoing is found to have played a part in the tragedy, those responsible must face the full force of the law. Corruption has haunted Iraq since the rule of Saddam Hussein and cannot be allowed to persist as the country tries to rebuild.
As Iraq comes to an end of a national period of mourning on Sunday, clear answers are needed by a grieving population. The rebuilding of Mosul has stalled in recent months and allegations of corruption continue to hang over the city. Iraqis deserve better – and at the very least, should be able to expect that a family day out will not end in tragedy.