Sunday, April 25, 2021

Another injustice in Iraq

Saturday saw an explosion at  Ibn al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad.  BBC NEWS reports, "Reports say an accident had caused an oxygen tank to explode, sparking the blaze.  Videos on social media show firefighters scrambling to extinguish the flames as people flee the building."  Outlets -- including THE CONVERSATION -- note that at least 82 have died with another 110 injured.  Those two numbers, by the way, are the official numbers published by the Iraqi government.  The death toll could rise.  Last night and early this morning, the published death toll was 23.  AFP observes, "Iraq's hospitals have been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines and hospital beds." 

  CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq speaks with an eye witness:

Murtadha Riyadh's grandmother and aunt were both on the hospital's second floor ICU ward when the fire erupted. 

 He was nearby picking up medicine for his grandmother when he suddenly heard explosions, he told CNN. "I ran back to the hospital. I called them to check on them. They told me, 'Don't come up, we are being evacuated,' but they could not make it."

    "I rushed to the first floor (of the hospital) to help but I could not, I was suffocating. Then fire broke out," Riyadh said.
    Minutes later health workers and neighborhood volunteers started carrying out charred bodies.

    Samya Kullab (AP) also incorporates an eye witness:

    Nurse Maher Ahmed was called to the scene late Saturday to help evacuate patients.

    “I could not have imagined it would be a massive blaze like that,” he said. The flames overwhelmed the hospital’s second floor isolation hall within three to four minutes of the oxygen cylinder exploding, he said. “Volcanoes of fire.”

    ASHARQ AL-AWSAT reports:


    Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it was deeply saddened over a fire that broke out at a hospital in the Iraqi capital, leaving more than 80 people dead.

    “The Kingdom expressed its sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims, and to Iraq, the leadership, government and people,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

    THE TEHRAN TIMES notes, "Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Sunday expressed his deepest condolences to Iraq, especially the families of the victims of the fire at the Ibn Khatib hospital in Baghdad."  THE TIMES OF OMAN reports Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tarik Al Said "has sent a cable of condolences to President Dr Barham Salih of the Republic of Iraq on victims of the fire that broke out in Ibn Al Khatib Hospital in Baghdad.  In the cable, His Majesty the Sultan expressed his sincere condolences and sympathy to President Dr Barham Salih, families of the victims, and the Iraqi brotherly people."  Halgurd Sherwani (KURDISTAN 24) notes the reaction from the Kurdish Regional Government with Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani statting that the KRG intends to "offer all the necessary assistance for the victims of the blast, particularly medical aid and receiving the injured ones." ANHA notes Mazloum Abdi, who leads the US-backed militia or terrorist group the Syrin Democratic Forces, weighed in:


    The Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) expressed his solidarity with Iraq in the "tragedy of Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital" in Baghdad and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

    Commenting on the fire incident of the "Ibn Al-Khatib" hospital in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, which has claimed more than 82 deaths and 110 injuries so far, the SDF's Commander-in-Chief, tweeted: "We have received with great sadness and sorrow the news. The painful tragedy at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad. We are in solidarity with Iraq in this ordeal. Condolences, patience and solace to the families of the martyrs, and we wish the wounded a speedy recovery."

    The White House issued a statement from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan:

    We mourn the loss of life in the fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad. We are in touch with Iraqi officials and have offered assistance. Our strategic partnership with Iraq is first and foremost a partnership between our two peoples. We are prepared to support the Government of Iraq and its people at this tragic moment. 

    The hospital treats COVID patients and one would assume that they would be a more secure facility as a result.  While an oxygen cannister may have exploded that doesn't allow for 'accidents' when the hsopital was not equipped with the basics such as a fire sprinkler system.  As political theorist Judith N. Shklar noted in THE FACES OF INJUSTICE, there is a difference between a tragedy and an injustice -- an injustice could have been prevented.  The number of deaths could have been prevented had basic safety guidelines been in place at the hospital.

    The United Nations News Center notes:

    Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert offered her deepest condolences to the families of the scores of people who lost their lives during a blaze that erupted at the Ibn Khatib hospital on Saturday night and wished the 100-plus injured a full and speedy recovery.

    According to reports, the accident was caused by the explosion of an oxygen tank.

    Iraq's Civil Defence said that by the early hours of Sunday morning the fire was under control. 

    Media reports said that the government's human rights commission issued a statement calling the incident “a crime against patients exhausted by Covid-19”. 

    And emergency service officials said that many patients died when they were taken off oxygen machines to be evacuated, while others were suffocated by smoke, according to news sources. 

    Future disasters must be stemmed before they start, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert  said, calling for “stronger protection measures to ensure that such a disaster cannot reoccur”. 

    Meanwhile, the UN continues to provide critical support to Iraq's health sector amid the pandemic and surging infections and stands ready to further assist the health authorities in combating the disease.  

    On Sunday morning, Twitter was awash with concern over the tragic accident, including the UN Children’s Fund, which tweeted: “UNICEF extends its deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives and those injured due to the fire that occurred at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad”. 

    MEMO reports;

    In the aftermath of a deadly fire which took the lives of over 80 COVID-19 patients, Iraq's health minister and the governor of Baghdad have both been suspended, Anadolu Agency reported.

    At a special Sunday Cabinet session, Health Minister Hassan Al-Tamimi and Baghdad Governor Muhammad Jaber were suspended and referred for investigations, said a statement by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi's media office.

    It added that a commission chaired by Interior Minister Othman Al-Ghanimi was set up to investigate the deadly fire at Ibn Al-Khatib hospital and hold those responsible accountable.

    Again, there is a difference between a tragedy and an injustice..  AFP's reporting may be the strongest when it comes to backing up that this was an injustice:

    “It’s mismanagement that killed these people,” the doctor added, who, on condition of anonymity, angrily listed the hospital’s many shortcomings.

    “Managers walk around smoking in the hospital where oxygen cylinders are stored,” he said. “Even in intensive care, there are always two or three friends or relatives at a patient’s bedside.”

    And, he added, “this doesn’t just happen at Ibn al-Khatib, it’s like this in all the public hospitals.”

    “When equipment breaks down, our director tells us not to report it,” said a nurse, in another hospital in Baghdad. “He says it would give a bad image of his establishment, but in reality, we have nothing that works.”

    These institutions — which until the 1980s were the pride of Iraq, known across the Arab world for its free, high quality public health services — are now seen as an embarrassment by many.

    This was an injustice.  Enough care was not taken for the patients to be safe.  The Iraqi people grasp that.  Dilan Sirwan (RUDAW) explains:

    The tragedy sparked outrage on social media and the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) called for the dismissal of the minister of health, Hassan al-Tamimi.

    “We ask the prime minister to dismiss the minister of health and his agents and to refer them to investigation,” read a statement from IHCHR, calling for Kadhimi to personally run the health ministry “with an advisory team of Iraqi medical universities and colleges to manage this vital ministry in this difficult situation.”

    On Sunday afternoon, Kadhimi’s office announced he had suspended Health Minister Tamimi, Baghdad Governor Mohammad Jabir al-Atta, and the health director, Abdel Ghani al-Saadi, in Baghdad’s Rasafa district where Ibn Khatib hospital is located.  

    The three officials are under investigation and Kadhimi has demanded results within five days. 

    And the same outlet, Sura Ali and Yasmine Mosimann report:

    Protests erupted in several Iraqi cities on Sunday evening in response to a massive hospital fire in Baghdad the previous night that many see as a result of the state’s corruption and mismanagement. 

    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 incident, which has killed at least 82 people and injured another 110, has been widely blamed on the facility’s storage of oxygen cylinders.

     "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,” Najaf activist Saif al-Mansoori told Rudaw English on Sunday.

    The following sites updated: