Iraq: At least 93 people died in a fire at a wedding ceremony in Qaraqosh.

  • By Katherine Armstrong and David Girton
  • BBC News

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Wedding fire in Iraq: How the fire spread.

At least 93 people were killed and 101 injured when a fire ripped through a wedding ceremony in Iraq’s largest Christian town on Tuesday night.

Hundreds of people were celebrating at a banquet hall in Qaraqosh, Nineveh province, when the tragedy occurred.

Eyewitnesses and civil defense officials said the fireworks started the fire while the bride and groom were dancing.

He added that the highly flammable metal and plastic composite panels covering the hall fueled the fire.

Security forces arrested nine staff of the venue and its owner on Wednesday.

Later, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of more than 40 victims at a cemetery in Qaraqosh, also known as Al-Hamdaniyyah and Bakhdeidah. Some carried portraits of their deceased loved ones.

Civil defense officials told BBC News Arabic that both the groom and his bride survived, although initial reports said they had died.

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Several eyewitnesses said that the entire family died in the fire.

Footage posted online showed the couple on the dance floor as flaming debris began to fall from the ceiling.

Another video, filmed moments earlier, showed four large fountain fireworks igniting in the hall and then engulfing a large nearby ceiling decoration in flames.

Rania Wad, a wedding guest whose hand was burnt, said that as the bride and groom slow danced, “fireworks went up on the ceiling, the whole hall went up in flames”.

“We couldn’t see anything,” the 17-year-old told AFP news agency. “We were suffocating, we didn’t know how to get out.”

Imad Yohana, 34, who escaped the fire, told Reuters: “We saw the fire pulsating as we came out of the hall. Those who managed to get out and those who didn’t were trapped. Those who made their way out. . were broken.”

Another survivor said several of his family members were among the victims.

“When [the fire] It happened, my mom was in the bathroom,” he said. “I couldn’t find her until later. I looked for my daughter, my son, my wife, my father and I did not find them. They will go.”

image source, social media

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Footage shows flames shooting from the roof.

But Nineveh’s deputy governor Hassan al-Alaq earlier told Reuters that 113 people had been confirmed dead.

The injured have been transferred to hospitals in the nearby cities of Nineveh, including Mosul, and in the neighboring Kurdistan Region.

Bilissa Chavis, a journalist in the Kurdish city of Erbil, told the BBC that there was not enough equipment to rescue people from the fire and that Mosul did not have enough ambulances, medical staff and medical supplies to treat the injured.

Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari said preliminary investigations revealed that the fire “was caused by fireworks, which caused the roof to burn heavily and fall on civilians”, INA reported.

He also said the hall also lacked required “safety and security features” and those responsible “will be punished”.

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An emergency worker picks up the debris early Wednesday.

Earlier, the Civil Defense Directorate said the hall was covered with highly flammable metal composite panels, which are illegal in the country and “collapse within minutes in case of fire”. The panels also release toxic gases when burned, fueling the fire.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said the buildings would be inspected and safety procedures checked, adding that “relevant authorities will be held accountable for any negligence”.

It is not uncommon in Iraq where corruption and mismanagement are rampant and there is a lack of accountability.

In 2021, officials said a lack of safety measures led to the death of nearly 100 people in a hospital fire in the city of Nasiriyah.

Before it was taken over by the Sunni Muslim jihadist group Islamic State (IS) in 2014, Qaraqosh was home to about 50,000 people, the majority of whom were Assyrian Christians.

Although most people fled, IS militants committed many atrocities against Christians who remained. They also desecrated churches and burned hundreds of homes before Iraqi and US-led coalition forces recaptured the city in 2016.

About half of Qarqosh’s residents are said to have since returned, but many of the destroyed homes have yet to be rebuilt.

Additional reporting by Lena Sanjab in Beirut and Mattia Bobalo in London

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