A devastating fire at a Baghdad hospital for coronavirus patients has killed at least 80 people and injured more than 100, the Iraqi interior ministry said, triggering allegations of corruption and neglect within the ministry of Health as it grapples with the pandemic.
The blaze was started on Saturday evening by an oxygen cylinder that exploded, passing through Ibn al-Khatib hospital within minutes, the Associated Press reported. A doctor who witnessed the scene told the news agency that the inflagration looked like “volcanoes of fire.”
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for an investigation into the tragedy to be completed within five days and suspended the Minister of Health, the Governor of Baghdad and the District Health Director of Al Rusafa. He pledged to hold those responsible for “negligence” to account.
Despite being Opec’s second-largest oil producer, Iraq is hampered by neglected infrastructure, a legacy of sanctions against dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1990s, followed by years of chaos after his overthrow .
The hospital was dedicated to patients with coronavirus. Iraq, like many countries in the region, has struggled to bring the pandemic under control. The disease has killed more than 15,000 Iraqis since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
Ali al-Bayati, a member of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, which monitors civilian casualties, said 28 people in the hospital ward were on ventilators. “Corruption and the problems inside [the health] the ministry is really deep, ”Bayati told the FT. He added that the breaches and neglect of workplace safety had been ignored by successive ministers and called on Kadhimi to expand the investigation and “open the wallet in detail.”
Major General Khaled al-Muhanna, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said on Sunday that the death toll at the hospital had reached 82 dead, with 110 injured. “Some victims died from the fires and others threw themselves from a high place,” he added, in comments broadcast in the official media.
“Ninety percent of government institutions did not follow civil protection procedures and precautions aimed at [safeguarding] citizen[s]Muhanna said.
Iraqi protesters have long complained about corruption and poor governance. The Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment is controlled by the political party loyal to Muqtadr al-Sadr, the fire-killer cleric and militia leader turned politician. Iraq is due to hold elections this fall.
The country’s accident record is underscored by a lack of public accountability. Nearly 100 people died when a ferry sank in the northern city of Mosul last year.