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A massive fire at a Baghdad hospital dedicated to COVID-19 patients has left at least 82 people dead and dozens injured. Amid calls for action by international organizations, Iraq’s prime minister ordered an investigation.
Early reports say the blaze Saturday at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in the Iraqi capital was set off by an exploding oxygen cylinder. The flames raged through the facility where patients were being treated for the coronavirus.
Iraq Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Muhanna said 110 people were injured in the explosion.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said the incident was the result of negligence and he declared a mourning period in honor of the victims.
Kadhimi also launched an investigation into the fire and demanded results within 24 hours. An investigation will also be launched into the hospital’s director, security director and maintenance.
“I say it frankly, the incident is a violation of the Iraqi national security, and it is a setback in every sense of the word. We must not let such events go unnoticed,” Kadhimi said in a statement.
The hospital had no smoke detectors, sprinkler system or fire hoses, said Maj. Gen. Khadhim Bohan, the head of Iraq’s civil defense forces, according to The New York Times. Flammable material used in false ceilings in the intensive care ward helped the fire spread quickly, Bohan said.
Twenty-eight of the victims suffered from severe symptoms and were on ventilators, leaving them unable to flee once the fire started, said Ali Akram al-Bayati, of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq.
The commission demanded action from the Iraqi government, calling the incident a “crime” against patients staying in the hospital due to COVID-19. The commission further called for Kadhimi to dismiss the Iraqi health minister and his deputy ministers.
UNAMI, Iraq’s United Nations Assistance Mission, called for stronger protections to prevent further disasters.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Iraq’s special representative of the U.N. secretary-general expressed shock over the incident and wished the injured a full recovery.
The pandemic has dealt a blow to Iraq’s health care system, which was already struggling after decades of war and sanctions on the country. Confirmed COVID-19 infections in Iraq have topped 1 million, according to the World Health Organization.