Tuesday July 23, 2024

‘Negligent’ Iraq officials sacked for wedding fire

Minister says that night, it held in excess of 900 people, confirming blaze on night of Sep 26 was an accident

October 02, 2023
The wedding area where the blaze erupted can be seen in this picture. — AFP/File
The wedding area where the blaze erupted can be seen in this picture. — AFP/File

BAGHDAD: A mayor and his fire chief are among five Iraqi officials sacked for "grave negligence" after a blaze that killed 107 people at a wedding last week, authorities said Sunday.

The tragedy struck the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh, a centre of Iraq’s small Christian community near Mosul, in a wedding hall with a capacity of “no more than 400 people”, Interior Minister Abdel Amir al-Shammari told a press conference.

That night, it held in excess of 900 people, he said, confirming the blaze on the night of September 26 was an accident.

Public anger has flared over the high death toll, which General Saad Faleh, head of the commission investigating the tragedy, said currently stands at 107.

Shammari said those fired include: the mayor of Qaraqosh; the municipal director; the tourism and recreation division head; an electricity official; and the chief of firefighting and security in Nineveh province’s Civil Defence corps.

The Civil Defence chief will face a disciplinary committee, Shammari added.

In addition to negligence the officials were fired for “failures in the exercise of their duties,” he said.

“The mayor was negligent: the hall was built illegally on the land, but the mayor authorised its going into service, without the approval of other public agencies,” the minister said.

Civil Defence had carried out an inspection of the site earlier this year and the owner was ordered to remove the ceiling by October because of its highly-flammable materials, he added.

The “main cause” of the fire was four fireworks that shot showers of sparks four metres high, Faleh said, adding that these ignited the prefabricated panels in the ceiling and also the hall’s decorations.

Shammari said the hall’s owner, thinking that a short circuit had started the fire, cut the electricity and plunged the room into darkness, provoking “chaos, panic and a stampede”.

Of the 14 people arrested earlier by security forces, four, including the venue’s owner, were directly responsible for installing the fireworks, Faleh said. Both bride and groom survived the fire.

Safety standards are often poorly observed in Iraq, a country still recovering from decades of dictatorship, war and unrest that remains plagued by corruption, mismanagement and often dilapidated infrastructure.

Public discontent flared into a nationwide protest movement that began in October, 2019.

Nearly 500 demonstrators gathered Sunday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to commemorate the anniversary, which police — met with stones hurled by the protesters — dispersed with sound grenades, an AFP photographer said.