Iraq: Anti-Corruption Protests Erupt After at Least 82 Killed in Hospital ICU Fire

Members of Iraqi security forces stand at the gate of Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, on April 25, 2021, after a fire erupted in the medical facility reserved for the most severe COVID-19 cases. - At least 23 people died when a fire broke out in a coronavirus intensive care …
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images

Protests broke out across Iraq on Sunday to denounce the Iraqi government’s alleged “mismanagement and corruption,” which many Iraqis say they blame for a hospital fire on Saturday in Baghdad that killed at least 82 people and injured an additional 112.

“Demonstrations took place in the provinces of Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Wasit, Babil, Karbala, Najaf, Muthanna and Basra in solidarity with the victims of the fire that ripped through Ibn al-Khatib Hospital on Saturday night,” the Iraqi Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported on April 25.

“What happened yesterday was a massacre, and it can happen in any hospital in any governorate in Iraq due to the dilapidated health system, so corrupt local governments must be dismissed first,” a protester named Saif al-Mansoori who demonstrated in the central city of Najaf on Sunday told Rudaw.

The intensive care unit of Baghdad’s Ibn al-Khatib hospital caught fire on April 24 after an oxygen cylinder exploded in the ward, which almost exclusively treats Chinese coronavirus patients with severe symptoms during the ongoing pandemic.

“Among the dead were at least 28 patients on ventilators,” a spokesman for Iraq’s independent Human Rights Commission, Ali al-Bayati, wrote in a Twitter statement on April 25.

A spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, Major General Khaled al-Muhanna, said on Sunday the fire was “due to negligence” on the part of government health officials, who allowed oxygen tanks to be stored improperly at the hospital and failed to enforce safety protocols at the facility.

Al-Muhanna said in a statement:

The diagnosis provided by the civil defense teams through the site and their survey showed that there was a failure to take the necessary precautions within the instructions of the civil defense, and the directorate confirmed in its diagnosis also the absence of a self-extinguishing system or an early warning system, as well as the absence of a civil defense guard and others. … All of this helped to accelerate the spread of [the] fire.

Iraq’s Council of Ministers, headed by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al- Kadhimi, ordered a five-day investigation into the Ibn al-Khatib hospital fire on April 25. Prime Minister Kadhimi ordered the suspensions of three senior government officials, including Iraqi Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi and Baghdad Governor Muhammad Jaber, pending the investigation.

“Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council announced Sunday evening that a Baghdad court has decided to arrest the director of Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, Salman al-Shammari, and a number of other staff members in relation to the fire,” Rudaw reported on April 25.

“The Rusafa Investigation Court in Baghdad has decided to detain the hospital director until an investigation into the incident has been concluded,” according to the news site.

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