Iraq wedding party tragedy: 113 dead, over 150 injured in devastating fire
Mosul, September 27: A devastating fire tore through a hall hosting a Christian wedding in northern Iraq, claiming the lives of at least 100 people and leaving 150 others injured, with authorities warning that the death toll could potentially rise.
The tragic incident unfolded in Iraq's Nineveh province within its Hamdaniya area, a predominantly Christian region just outside the city of Mosul, located approximately 335 kilometers northwest of the capital, Baghdad.
Heart-wrenching television footage captured the flames swiftly engulfing the wedding hall. In the aftermath, all that remained were charred metal structures and debris, with the only sources of light coming from television cameras and the mobile phones of onlookers.
Survivors were rushed to local hospitals, where they received urgent medical attention, including oxygen and bandaging. Meanwhile, distraught families anxiously gathered in hospital hallways and outside, while workers scrambled to organize additional oxygen cylinders.
The health department in Nineveh province later revised the death toll to 114. Saif al-Badr, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry, had initially reported 150 injuries through the state-run Iraqi News Agency.
Efforts were swiftly launched to provide relief to those affected by the devastating incident, as declared by al-Badr: "All efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate accident."
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani ordered an investigation into the fire and called on the country's Interior and Health officials to provide assistance, as stated by his office in an online statement.
Najim al-Jubouri, the provincial governor of Nineveh, revealed that some of the injured had been transferred to regional hospitals. He cautioned that the final casualty figures were not yet confirmed, implying that the death toll could still rise.
While the official cause of the blaze remained undisclosed, initial reports from the Kurdish television news channel Rudaw suggested that fireworks at the venue might have triggered the fire.
Civil defense officials, as cited by the Iraqi News Agency, described the exterior of the wedding hall as adorned with highly flammable cladding materials, which were illegal in the country. According to civil defense, "The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when the fire breaks out."
The decision to employ such hazardous materials on the hall's exterior was not immediately explained. However, it is worth noting that corruption and mismanagement persist in Iraq, even two decades after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Experts noted that while some cladding materials can be fire-resistant, those that caught fire at the wedding hall and similar incidents were often not designed to meet stricter safety standards. Additionally, they were frequently applied to buildings without any measures to slow or halt a potential fire. This alarming pattern includes the 2017 Grenfell Fire in London, which claimed 72 lives, marking the deadliest fire in Britain since World War II, as well as multiple high-rise fires in the United Arab Emirates.
The fire represents the latest tragedy to strike Iraq's dwindling Christian minority, which has been subjected to violence by extremist groups, initially al-Qaida and later the Islamic State, over the past two decades. Although the Nineveh plains, their historic homeland, was reclaimed from the Islamic State six years ago, many towns remain in ruins and lack basic services. Consequently, numerous Christians have emigrated to Europe, Australia, or the United States.
The Christian population in Iraq currently stands at an estimated 150,000, a significant decline from the 1.5 million reported in 2003. Iraq's overall population exceeds 40 million.
- With inputs from agencies