Iraq hospital fire: Protests as Covid ward blaze kills at least 92

At least 92 people have died after a fire in a Covid isolation ward at a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriya.

Much of Iraq’s healthcare system is in poor condition after years of conflict and angry relatives of the victims have been protesting outside the facility.

Police say the fire at al-Hussein hospital started when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank, causing it to explode.

Arrest warrants have been issued against 13 people, local media report.

Privately owned news site Shafaq News reports that the list, issued by the Dhi Qar Integrity Investigation Court, includes the province’s health chief Saddam Sahib al-Taweel.

PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi earlier ordered the arrest of the head of the hospital, and said the fire was “a deep wound in the conscience of all Iraqis”.

Health officials say more than 100 people were injured in the blaze.

The new ward had space for 70 beds and was built just three months ago, medical officials told the Associated Press news agency.

It was the second hospital fire in Iraq in three months. In April, a fire at a hospital in Baghdad killed more than 80 people.

Oday al-Jabri, who lost four family members and two neighbours in the fire, told AFP news agency he was frustrated and angry.

“I don’t know whether to console my family, my neighbours or my relatives,” he said.

Another relative, Abu Nour al-Shawi, told the agency: “A patient infected with coronavirus is brought here to be treated, but is returned in a coffin along with his family and children. Where [else] would such a thing happen?”

A medic at the hospital, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the building had lacked even basic safety measures.

“The hospital lacks a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm,” he said.

“We complained many times over the past three months that a tragedy could happen any moment from a cigarette stub, but every time we get the same answer from health officials: ‘We don’t have enough money’.”