Iraq fumes after deadly hospital fire death toll reach 82

Baghdad, Iraq: Iraqis requested the dismissal of officials on Sunday after at least fifty-eight people were killed in a fire that ravaged a Covid-19 hospital in the Iraqi capital overnight Sunday, according to an official toll.

"The number of deaths as a result of the Ibn al-Khatib hospital fire was 58, of which 28 were on ventilators" being treated for Covid-19, Ali Bayati, a member of Iraq's Human Rights Commission, said.

According to medical reports, the fire at Baghdad's Ibn al-Khatib hospital began with an explosion triggered by "a fault in the storage of oxygen cylinders."

A medical source said that flames spread rapidly through several floors in the middle of the night, as hundreds of relatives gathered at the bedsides of the 30 patients in the hospital's intensive care unit, where the most serious Covid-19 cases are handled.

"The hospital had no fire safety system, and false ceilings permitted flames to spread to highly flammable objects," said civil defense.

"The majority of the patients died as a result of having to be moved and taken off ventilators, while the others were suffocated by smoke," it said.

According to medical and security reports, 23 people were killed and 50 others were injured in the fire.

According to the civil defense, its representatives "rescued 90 people out of 120 patients and their families."

Iraq's hospitals have been broken down by decades of violence and inadequate funding, resulting in medication and hospital bed shortages.

The incident sparked outrage on social media, prompting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khademi to order an investigation into the cause of the fire and to announce three days of national mourning.

An AFP photographs showed hundreds of tall oxygen cylinders that had been evacuated lined up outside the building after daybreak, alongside gurneys and scattered rubble.

Social media videos showed firefighters attempting to extinguish the blaze as patients and their families fled the house.

Amir, 35, told AFP he "saved his brothers who were at the hospital by the skin of his teeth".

"It was the people who got the wounded out."


The fire, which was triggered by negligence, according to multiple reports, and is often related to systematic corruption in Iraq, sparked outrage on social media, with a hashtag demanding the health minister be fired trending on Twitter.

Baghdad Governor Mohammed Jaber called on the health ministry "to establish a commission of inquiry so that those who did not do their jobs may be brought to justice".

In a statement, the government's human rights commission said the incident was "a crime against patients exhausted by Covid-19 who put their lives in the hands of the health ministry and its institutions and instead of being treated, perished in flames".

The commission demanded that Prime Minister Hassan al-Tamimi be fired and "brought to justice."

Kadhemi replied by calling for "an inquiry," echoing President Barham Saleh and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, and pledging to deliver results "within 24 hours."

The health director for Baghdad's eastern sector and the head of Ibn al-Khatib, as well as the hospital's security and technical maintenance teams, were also suspended by the prime minister.

They are being challenged, and no one will be released "until those who have done wrong are brought to justice," according to Kadhemi.

Increasing coronavirus cases 

The UN top representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, expressed "shock" at the tragedy and called "for stronger protection measures to ensure that such a disaster cannot reoccur".

On Wednesday, the number of Covid-19 cases in Iraq reached one million, making it the Arab country with the largest number.

Since the country's first infections were registered in February 2020, the health ministry has documented over 15,000 deaths and performed about 40,000 tests daily on a population of 40 million people.

Patients who can afford it have also set up oxygen tanks for use at home rather than going to overcrowded or run-down hospitals.

Iraq launched its vaccination campaign last month and has collected nearly 650,000 doses of various vaccinations, the bulk of which were donated or obtained through the Covax program.

According to the ministry, approximately 300,000 people had received at least one dose as of Wednesday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have faced an uphill challenge in convincing Iraqis to get vaccinated, owing to widespread skepticism about the vaccine and public reluctance to wear masks.

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