Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Another injustice in Iraq as greed and corruption result in another hospital fire.
More horror in Iraq but it all feels strangely familiar. A hospital fire. In a Covid ward. Many dead. At least 66 with over one hundred more left injured. EFE explains:
At least 64 people have died after a fire ripped through a coronavirus isolation ward in a hospital in the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar.
State-run news agency INA said Tuesday that another 50 were injured in the Monday night blaze that hit the isolation section at Imam al-Hussein hospital in Nasiriyah city, about 350 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.
Preliminary investigations indicated the fire started after an oxygen cylinder exploded, according to the country’s public broadcaster al-Iraqiya TV.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh wrote on Twitter that the “disaster at al-Hussein hospital in Dhi Qar … is the result of persistent corruption and mismanagement that underestimate the lives of Iraqis and obstruct the performance of institutions.”
All too familiar.
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."
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.”
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:
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.
Not even three full months later, another hospital, another fire, another COVID 19 ward.
Anguished relatives were still looking for traces of their loved ones on Tuesday morning, searching through the debris of charred blankets and belongings inside the torched remains of the ward. A blackened skull of a deceased female patient from the ward was found.
Many cried openly, their tears tinged with anger, blaming both the provincial government of Dhi Qar, where Nasiriyah is located, and the federal government in Baghdad for years of mismanagement and neglect.
“The whole state system has collapsed, and who paid the price? The people inside here. These people have paid the price,” said Haidar al-Askari, who was at the scene of the blaze.
Journalist Steven Nabil Tweets:
The death toll continues to rise. It was 66 when I started dictating this snapshot a few minutes ago and it's already increased again. Rafid Jaboori Tweets:
Iraqi President Barham Salhi blamed the incident on "corruption and mismanagement" and called on those responsible to be held accountable.
BBC NEWS adds, "The speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammed al-Halbousi, tweeted that the blaze was 'clear proof of the failure to protect Iraqi lives, and it is time to put an end to this catastrophic failure'.".
The first fire, the one in April, was not a tragedy. It was an injustice. No fire sprinkler system, basic measures not followed, people smoking near oxygen tanks, etc. It could have been prevented easily with oversight. Not only did the government fail to protect the citizens ahead of the April fire, they continued to fail to protect them.
A medic at the hospital, who declined to give his name and whose Monday shift ended a few hours before the fire broke out, said the absence of basic of safety measures meant it was an accident in the making.
"The hospital lacks a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm," he told Reuters.
"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'."
After the horrific fire in April, the government claimed it was beefing up oversight and blah blah blah. Nope. Not a damn thing changed. This is no accident, it's an injustice and one the government itself is responsible for. MIRAGE NEWS notes:
Fire breakout at Al-Hussein Hospital in Dhi Qar Governorate, southern Iraq, is an inevitable result of the government’s neglect of fundamental reforms in the health sector, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said today in a statement.
[. . .]
Omar Al-Ajlouni, legal researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor, said “It is unfortunate that hospitals and medical centers are no longer places where Iraqis can have a better health and preserve their lives, but rather turned into deadly places where they might lose their lives. Iraqis deserve to enjoy safe and stable health services free from dangers and tragic accidents”.
“What is required is not only the accountability of those directly responsible for the incident, but also a comprehensive campaign to combat corruption and negligence, in various government sectors, especially the health sector,” he added.
Following the fire incident, anger has spread among people gathered at Nasiriya’s morgue as they waited to receive relatives’ bodies. Crowds of demonstrators appeared at the hospital in protest of the tragic blaze.
Their outrage stems from the reoccurrence of a fire incident at hospitals in the country within three months, with poor measures taken to prevent them. They also point at the slow response to the fire and not enough firefighters to put the situation under control.
The Kurdistan Region and Iran have both offered their assistance.
“My thought [sic] are with the people of Dhi Qar, and the entire country, for the painful images emerging from the hospital fire,” tweeted Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. “I’ve instructed the Health Minister to avail our services to the injured.”
"We express our sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic accident at al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in Nasiriyah. We announce the Kurdistan Region's complete readiness for medical assistance," tweeted the Kurdistan Region's presidency.
Iran’s Red Crescent said they are ready “to support Iraq in the fire incident.”
International representatives in Iraq have sent their condolences.
The head of the United Nations mission, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said "More must be done to ensure all Iraqis can receive care in a safe environment."
EU Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth expressed his “sadness and despair in the face of this latest disaster.”
Spokesperson for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group (ISIS) Wayne Marotto said the military alliance sends their condolences “to the families whose loved ones perished” in the fire.
Mustafa al-Kadhimi needs to be held responsible. This is the second hospital fire to happen on his watch. His friends in the media (he has worked with numerous outlets before becoming prime minister) will no doubt attempt to argue, "Two! Only two! How about giving him credit for all the hospitals in Iraq that haven't caught fire!!!! So far."
Elections are supposed to take place in October. Mustafa was in a weak position a few weeks ago. That already weak position just gets worse as another hospital fire captures the news cycle and as people are yet again reminded of how little he's actually done.
The following sites updated: