A fire at a wedding hall in northern Iraq has claimed the lives of 114 people and injured 150 more, according to local officials. The incident occurred on Tuesday evening in the Al-Hamdaniya district of the Nineveh province, a predominantly Christian area just outside the city of Mosul. The bride and groom were among the victims of the inferno, which was reportedly sparked by a firework set off inside the hall.
The fire quickly spread over the building, trapping hundreds of guests inside. Television footage showed flames engulfing the hall as people tried to escape. In the aftermath, only charred metal and debris could be seen as rescue workers searched for survivors. Some of the injured were transferred to regional hospitals, while others received oxygen and bandages at local facilities.
Prime minister orders investigation
Prime minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani ordered an investigation into the cause and circumstances of the fire, and asked the interior and health ministry officials to provide relief to those affected by the tragedy. He also expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.
Najim al-Jubouri, the provincial governor of Nineveh, said there were no final casualty figures yet from the blaze, which suggests the death toll may rise. He also said he would form a committee to hold accountable those responsible for the fire, and vowed to compensate the families of the victims.
Eyewitnesses recount horror
Eyewitnesses at the site said the fire started at around 10.45pm local time and that hundreds of people were in attendance at the time of the incident. They said they saw flaming debris falling on guests inside the hall, and heard screams and cries for help.
“We saw the fire pulsating, coming out of the hall. Those who managed got out and those who didn’t got stuck. Even those who made their way out were broken,” said Imad Yohana, a 34-year-old who escaped the inferno.
Another survivor, Rana Hanna, said she lost her sister and her niece in the fire. She said she tried to save them but couldn’t because of the intensity of the flames.
“I saw them burning in front of my eyes. I couldn’t do anything. I just ran out with my children,” she said.
A devastating blow to a minority community
The fire was a devastating blow to the Christian community in northern Iraq, which has suffered persecution and displacement in recent years due to sectarian violence and the rise of Islamic State militants. Many Christians fled Mosul and other areas after IS seized control in 2014, and some returned after Iraqi forces recaptured the city in 2017.
The wedding hall was hosting a Christian wedding, which is a rare occasion in a region where such celebrations have been largely absent due to security concerns and economic hardships. The bride and groom were identified as Rana Hanna and Sami Yousif, both in their twenties.
The fire also occurred during a time of political turmoil in Iraq, as protesters have been demanding reforms and an end to corruption and foreign interference. The country is also facing a severe economic crisis due to low oil prices and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.