Negligence blamed for catastrophic fire in Iraq's Nineveh with 120 dead

Negligence blamed for catastrophic fire in Iraq's Nineveh with 120 dead
A wedding party in Iraq’s Hamdaniyah town turned into a catastrophe after a fire led to hundreds of casualties.  
3 min read
27 September, 2023
Relatives of those who lost their life in the fire experience sadness on a fire site after a fire broke out at a wedding celebration in the northern Nineveh province in Mosul, Iraq on September 27, 2023. (Getty)

At least 120 people lost their lives, and 100 others were injured late on Tuesday night when a fire broke out at a wedding in Hamdaniyah, also known as Qaraqosh, the largest Christian town in Nineveh province.

Approximately a thousand people gathered at Haitham Hall in Hamdaniyah to celebrate the wedding of a Christian couple when the fire erupted.

Major General Khaled Al-Mahna, spokesperson for Iraq's interior ministry, provided an update on the situation, stating to The New Arab in a phone interview.

"The latest figures from the Hamdaniyah wedding fire show 93 martyrs, with 100 wounded," he said.

"Some of the wounded have been discharged from hospitals after receiving treatment, while those in critical condition have been transferred to specialized burn treatment centers."

Iraq's health ministry is conducting autopsies on the deceased, while the whereabouts of the wedding goers, including the bride and groom, remain unknown.

Iraq's Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shamari has ordered the formation of an investigation committee to look into the incident.

The ministry has also announced the detention of nine employees working in the hall and arrest warrants for the four individuals who own the hall.

Al-Mahna clarified: "Arrest warrants have been issued against the owners of the hall on charges of negligence in complying with safety standards imposed by civil defense authorities."

The primary owner of the hall is reportedly based in Erbil, the capital city of the northern Kurdistan region. When asked whether arrest warrants have been sent to authorities in Erbil, Al-Mahna responded: "It is too early for that. Currently, the arrest warrants have been issued, and the executive authorities are working to enforce them."

In a statement released late on Wednesday, the Kurdistan Region's Security Council (KRSC) confirmed the apprehension of the owner of Haitham Hall.

"In response to an arrest warrant issued by Iraq's interior ministry, our KRSC institutions in Erbil have taken into custody the hall's owner, identified as Samir Suleiman Khurmi Rafu Asu, and subsequently handed him over to Iraq's interior ministry authorities," the statement read.

Iraq's State News Agency (INA) quoted Iraq's civil defence directorate, saying that the fire resulted in the collapse of parts of the hall due to the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials.

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While the exact cause of the fire remains uncertain, some eyewitnesses speaking to local media suggested that fireworks may have started the flames.

The presence of flammable panels exacerbated the blaze, leading to parts of the ceiling collapsing. Iraqi officials also pointed out that the hall had been constructed illegally and without proper licenses, highlighting rampant corruption by state officials.

Efforts to reach Saif Al-Badr, spokesperson for Iraq's health ministry, for comment were unsuccessful at the time of reporting. The interior ministry also reported that 21 injured individuals were transported to hospitals in Duhok in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, while Erbil hospitals treated 18 others.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has declared a three-day period of mourning across the country, and the Sunni Endowment has suspended all celebrations for the occasion of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Numerous world leaders have sent condolence letters to Iraq's leadership, expressing their sorrow over this human tragedy.