Iraqi Hospital Fire Kills at Least 82, Alleged Negligence the Cause

Poor security procedures and lack of regulations are being blamed for a deadly fire at Ibn al-Khatib Hospital.

Baghdad, Iraq — After a huge fire swept through the intensive care unit of the Ibn al Khatib Hospital April 25 in Baghdad, killing at least 82, Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is attributing the tragedy on the negligence of health officials, according to a news report from the Associated Press.

Another 110 people were injured, according to ministry spokesperson Major General Khaled al-Muhanna. Health workers and civil defense teams were able to save at least 200 people, including patients, but the death toll and questionable hospital regulations have prompted the government to get involved.

Located in southeastern Baghdad, people throughout Iraq are referred to Ibn al Khatib Hospital, including many exhibiting severe symptoms of COVID-19.  The Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq (IHCHR), is calling the incident a “crime against patients who were forced by the severity of the disease as a result of COVID-19 infection to be hospitalized.”

Following a special emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the situation, the government suspended the health minister and the governor of Baghdad province. The cabinet also fired the director-general of the Baghdad health department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located, and the hospital’s director of engineering and maintenance. The investigation of the fire and those responsible is ongoing.

The deadly fire was set off when an oxygen cylinder exploded, raising questions about Iraq’s concern for public safety.

“Part of the problem is that laws and regulations governing public safety and health are old,” stated Yesar al-Maliki, an advisor to the Iraq Energy Institute, in the Associated Press report. “There are no detailed regulations and standard operating procedures on how to do basic things step by step, especially when handling risky equipment. If there was a standard operating procedure on how to handle oxygen bottles, especially noticing wear and tear, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Furthermore, the hospital had no smoke detectors, sprinkler system or fire hoses, said Maj. Gen. Khadhim Bohan, the head of Iraq’s civil defense forces, according to The New York Times. Flammable material used in false ceilings in the intensive care ward accelerated the spread of the fire, Bohan added.

“There needs to be specialists handling policy, regulation, and implementation,” he said.

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