BEIRUT — Outraged Iraqis took to social media Wednesday to offer call for justice for the victims of a fire that broke out at a wedding in Northern Iraq, killing more than a hundred people.
The cause of the Tuesday evening blaze in the mainly Christian town of Qaraqosh was not immediately known, but early reports suggested fireworks triggered the blaze inside the packed reception hall which rapidly spread because of "highly flammable" construction materials.
Some social media users accused a member of the Babylon Brigades, a pro-Iranian Christian Chaldean militia headed by Rayan al-Kildani that operates primarily in the northern part of Iraq, of being the owner of the hall where the fire took place.
The Babylon Brigades are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (Al Hachd al-Chaabi), a coalition of around sixty militias armed and financed by Iran, formed in 2014 to fight the Islamic State terrorist group. The group has some 300 or 400 members, mostly Shiites, according to Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute.
Head of online media outlet Iraqi News Heba Naeb wrote on ‘X’ Wednesday addressing the Babylon Brigades: “Instead of expressing condolences and acrobatic slogans, go and check your failed projects [...]. We are fed up with promises and exploiting people’s misfortunes for political and electoral purposes.”
#حركة_بابليون بدال التعزية والنشر والشعارات البهلوانية روحوا اتاكدوا من مشاريعكم الفاشله المسؤولين عنها وقت المصائب والفواجع تظهرون وتصيرون الابطال بنهاية القصة شبعنا من الوعود واستغلال مصائب الناس لاغراض سياسية وانتخابية .#فاجعة_الموصل #فاجعة_الحمدانية #فاجعة_بغديدا #نينوى…— هبــة النائب (@93hib_) September 27, 2023
Shams Bachir, a youtube content creator, wrote that the initial investigations revealed that the cause of the disaster is primarily related to the violation of safety rules in the hall. “The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable building materials that collapse within minutes when the fire breaks out…the hall also did not have fire extinguishing equipment, which caused the fire to expand..will the owners be held accountable or will they escape simply because they are members of the Babylon Brigade?” she asked.
نستيقظ اليوم على فاجعة مؤلمة جدا.— ?ℍ??? ?? شمس بشير (@Shams_BT) September 27, 2023
عرس يتحول إلى كابوس اسود. 114 قتيل و 200 جريح جراء حريق اندلع في قاعة عرس في #بغديدا في قضاء الحمدانية بمحافظة نينوى.
كشفت التحقيقات الأولية أسباب الكارثة وفي مقدمتها مخالفة قواعد السلامة:
تشير التحقيقات الأولية إلى أن الحريق ناجم عن ألعاب… pic.twitter.com/E6BbtWNVB6
Nineveh Governor Najm al-Jubouri declared a one week period of mourning following the tragedy.
Another social media user wrote: “A declaration of mourning for the souls of people who died because of their corruption, [is not enough as long as] there is no accountability for anyone…because those who own these places are figures affiliated with the militias of the ruling parties.”
محافظ نينوى نجم الجبوري يعلن الحداد لمدة أسبوع إثر حريق قاعة الأعراس في الحمدانية..— Lina_Al Bayati 98 ?????? (@Liino10_1) September 27, 2023
مجرد اعلان حداد ع ارواح ناس ماتوا بسبب فسادهم وماكو اي محاسبه لاي شخص مثل حادثه العباره لان من يمتلك هاي الاماكن هم شخصيات تابعه لمليشيات الاحزاب الحاكمه ..#فاجعة_بغديدا
“A painful tragedy happened to our children in the Al-Hamdaniya district as a result of the fire that occurred at a wedding gathering. We stress the need to open an investigation, find out the circumstances of the accident, and take all safety measures to prevent its recurrence. Our deepest sympathy and sincere condolences to the families of the victims and a speedy recovery to the injured,” wrote Iraq's president, Abdellatif Rashid, on ‘X'.
Mustafa Al Dulaimi, an Iraqi activist, posted a video of a woman and her brother trying to find the remains of their mother in the hall. They could only find a part of her dress. “This is a disaster in every sense of the word,” Al Dulaimi said.
Imad Al Shimry, Iraqi researcher, offered his condolences and concluded “it is as if it is forbidden to rejoice in this land.”
Safety standards in Iraq's construction sector are often disregarded and the country's infrastructure was devastated by decades of conflict.
In July 2021, a fire in the Covid unit of a hospital in southern Iraq killed more than 60 people.
In April of the same year, exploding oxygen tanks triggered a fire at a hospital in Baghdad, killing more than 80 people.
Like many Christian towns in the Nineveh Plains northeast of Mosul, Qaraqosh was ransacked by jihadists of the Islamic State group in 2014.
Qaraqosh and its churches were slowly rebuilt after the group's ouster in 2017 and Pope Francis visited the town in March 2021.