- Written by Katherine Armstrong and David Gretten
- BBC News
At least 93 people were killed and 101 others were injured after a fire broke out during a wedding in Iraq’s largest Christian city on Tuesday evening.
Hundreds were celebrating in a celebration hall in Qaraqosh, Nineveh Governorate, when the tragedy occurred.
Eyewitnesses and civil defense officials said that the fire broke out due to fireworks that were set off while the newlyweds were dancing.
They added that the highly flammable metal and plastic composite panels that covered the hall contributed to igniting the fire.
Security forces arrested nine employees of the place and its owner on Wednesday.
Later, hundreds of mourners participated in the funeral of more than 40 victims in the Qaraqosh cemetery, also known as Al-Hamdaniya and Baghdida. Some carried photos of their deceased loved ones.
Civil defense officials told BBC News Arabic that the groom and his bride survived, although initial reports said they had died.
Footage posted online showed the couple on the dance floor as flaming debris began falling from the ceiling.
Another video, filmed moments earlier, shows four large fountain fireworks igniting in the hall, and then a large ceiling decoration nearby is consumed by flames.
Rania Waad, one of the wedding guests who suffered burns to her hand, said that while the bride and groom were dancing slowly, “fireworks began to rise to the ceiling, and the entire hall caught fire.”
“We couldn’t see anything,” the 17-year-old told Agence France-Presse. “We were suffocating, and we didn’t know how to get out.”
Imad Youhanna (34 years old), who survived the hell, told Reuters: “We saw the fire pulsing out of the hall. Those who managed got out and those who did not got stuck. Even those who made their way in.” It’s broken.”
Another survivor said that a number of his family members were among the victims.
“when [the fire] “It happened, and my mother was in the bathroom. I couldn’t find her after that,” he said. I looked for my daughter, son, wife, and father, but I could not find them. They have gone.”
But the Deputy Governor of Nineveh, Hassan Al-Alaq, told Reuters earlier that 113 people had been confirmed dead.
The wounded were transferred to hospitals across Nineveh, including the nearby city of Mosul, and in the neighboring Kurdistan region.
Journalist Belisa Shawis in the Kurdish city of Erbil told the BBC that there were not “enough logistical tools to save people” from the fire, and that Mosul did not have enough ambulances, healthcare teams and medical equipment to treat the wounded.
Interior Minister Abdul Amir Al-Shammari said that preliminary investigations concluded that the fire “was caused by fireworks, which led to the roof burning significantly and collapsing on citizens.” The Iraqi News Agency reported.
He also said that the hall also lacks the required “safety and security specifications” and that those responsible “will receive their just punishment.”
Earlier, the Civil Defense Directorate said that the hall was covered with highly flammable composite metal panels, which are banned in the country and “collapse within minutes when a fire breaks out.” The panels also release toxic gases when they burn, which can worsen fires.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shiaa Al-Sudani said that inspections of buildings will be carried out and safety procedures will be checked, with “the relevant authorities being held accountable for any negligence.”
Such incidents are not rare in Iraq, where corruption, mismanagement and accountability are rampant.
In 2021, officials said a lack of safety measures contributed to the deaths of nearly 100 people in a fire at a hospital in the city of Nasiriyah.
Qaraqosh was home to about 50,000 people, the vast majority of whom were Assyrian Christians, before it was overrun by the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State in 2014.
Although most people fled, ISIS fighters committed many atrocities against the Christians who remained. They also desecrated churches and burned hundreds of homes to the ground before Iraqi and US-led coalition forces retook the city in 2016.
About half of Qaraqosh’s population is said to have since returned, but many of the destroyed homes have yet to be rebuilt.
Additional reporting by Lina Sinjab in Beirut and Mattia Bubalo in London
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