Catholic Chaldean church leader Louis Sako disputes Iraqi government's conclusions on Hamdaniyah fire
The Patriarch of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Iraq and worldwide, Cardinal Louis Sako, refuted the findings of an Iraqi government investigation into the Hamdaniyah wedding fire and argued that it was "a deliberate crime" rather than an accident from negligence in safety measures.
On the evening of 26 September, a massive fire engulfed a wedding party in Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in Iraq's Nineveh province. An investigative committee established by Iraq's interior ministry reported that the fire killed 107 people and injured 82 others.
The committee attributed the incident to negligence by the hall's owners, the use of fireworks generating high heat energy inside the hall, the inflammable decorations on the ceiling, the highly flammable hall floor and a storage room containing large amounts of alcohol.
General Saad Falah Kassar al-Dulaimi, the committee's chairman, highlighted overcrowding as a factor that hindered rescue operations due to the rapid collapse of the building.
However, Cardinal Louis Sako, speaking from Rome, disputed the official narrative and said the fire was a "deliberate act" orchestrated by "those with ulterior motives". He referenced Ryan Chaldean, the leader of the Christian Babylon Brigades, a pro-Iran militia that holds influence over the Christian community in Nineveh.
In a statement, Cardinal Sako called for "the genuine culprits to be held accountable without political bias", emphasising "the importance of respecting the memory of the victims and reassuring both Christians and Iraqis that justice would be served". He expressed concern over "the deep-seated corruption within the nation and the impunity enjoyed by some militias who do not respect God, the government, or the people."
He further questioned its timing and purpose and recommended the creation of "a crisis cell" to "objectively and wisely assess the situation rather than making hasty judgments that could lead to further conflict."
In response to these claims, Major General Khaled Al-Mahna, spokesperson for Iraq's interior ministry, defended the professionalism of the investigation and the validity of its results. In a phone interview with The New Arab, Al-Mahna emphasised that the investigation adhered to established standards and suggested that doubts about the investigation's results were linked to political conflicts between Cardinal Sako and the Babylon militia leader.
He also indicated that all the victims of the tragedy would be considered martyrs by the Iraqi government.
Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid had previously revoked a presidential decree accrediting Patriarch Sako in Iraq, which Sako attributed to Ryan Chaldean.
Interior Minister Abdel Amir Al-Shammari announced the dismissal of several officials for "grave negligence" related to the incident and stated that the Civil Defence chief would face disciplinary action.
Father Boutros Sheeto, an Iraqi Syriac Catholic priest who lost five family members in the fire, also asserted to the Associated Press that the fire was intentional. However, he provided no evidence to support this claim. He also called for an international investigation into the incident.
Cardinal Sako highlighted the past suffering of Christians in Iraq, including violence, kidnappings, bombings of churches and monasteries by extremist groups, and the seizure of Christian properties.
Iraq has been governed by a sectarian power-sharing system since 2003, which has resulted in limited representation for Christians and other minorities in the country's political landscape.