At least 64 people have been killed in a fire at a hospital that treats coronavirus patients in the southeastern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, according to health officials.
Some 50 people were also injured in the Monday night blaze that is believed to have started after oxygen tanks exploded in an intensive care unit treating Covid-19 patients. The fire has since been extinguished.
The Al-Hussein Hospital was set up at the start of the pandemic to treat coronavirus patients and it has quarantine stations on site. Nasiriya, in Dhi Qar province, is about 360 kilometers (225 miles) southeast of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad.
Iraqi President Barham Salhi blamed the incident on “corruption and mismanagement” and called on those responsible to be held accountable.
“The catastrophe of Al-Hussein Hospital in Dhi Qar, and before that, Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, is the result of persistent corruption and mismanagement that underestimated the lives of Iraqis and prevented reforming the performance of institutions,” Salhi said in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.
A huge fire at Ibn Al-Khatib Hospital, which started after oxygen tanks exploded in a Covid-19 unit, killed at least 82 people in April.
“A strict review of the performance of institutions and the protection of citizens is necessary,” Salih added.
During an emergency meeting on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi ordered the suspension and detention of the director of health in Dhi Qar, the director of the hospital and the director of civil defense in the province, according to a statement from his office.
A high-level government investigation into the incident has also been initiated.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi tweeted that the fire shows a failure to protect lives “and it is time to put an end to this catastrophic failure, and Parliament will shift today’s session to examine options regarding what happened.”
Since 2019, hundreds of Iraqis have died in violent protests across Iraq objecting to government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services, including electricity and clean water. Successive governments have fallen short of stabilizing the country after decades of sanctions and war.