Five Iraqi officials, including a mayor and his fire chief, were dismissed for “grave negligence” after a fire killed 107 people at a wedding last week, authorities said Sunday.
The fire occurred in the northern town of Qaraqosh, a hub for Iraq’s small Christian community near Mosul. The wedding hall had a capacity of “no more than 400 people,” Interior Minister Abdel Amir al-Shammari said during a press conference.
However, the hall held more than 900 people on the night of the blaze on Sept. 26, which he confirmed was accidental.
Public outrage grew due to the high death toll. General Saad Faleh, who leads the commission investigating the incident, confirmed 107 fatalities.
Shammari listed the dismissed officials as the mayor of Qaraqosh, the municipal director, the tourism and recreation division head, an electricity official, and the head of firefighting and security in Nineveh province’s Civil Defence corps.
The Civil Defence chief is set to appear before a disciplinary committee, Shammari added.
In addition to negligence, the officials were terminated due to “failures in the exercise of their duties,” he stated.
“The mayor was negligent: the hall was built illegally on the land, but the mayor authorised its going into service, without the approval of other public agencies,” Shammari explained.
Earlier this year, Civil Defence inspected the site, and the owner was instructed to remove the ceiling by October due to its highly flammable material.
Faleh identified fireworks as the “main cause” of the fire. These fireworks emitted sparks reaching 13 feet high, igniting prefabricated ceiling panels and decorations.
Shammari said that the hall’s owner, believing a short circuit started the fire, turned off the electricity, casting the room into darkness and causing “chaos, panic and a stampede.”
Of the 14 people detained by security forces, four, including the venue’s owner, had a direct hand in installing the fireworks, according to Faleh.
Both the bride and groom survived.
Iraq often struggles with adhering to safety standards, still grappling with the aftermath of years of dictatorship, warfare, and turmoil. The nation continues to face issues of corruption, mismanagement, and crumbling infrastructure.
Public unrest surged into a countrywide protest movement starting in October 2019. On Sunday, nearly 500 protesters convened in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square to mark the anniversary. They were met with sound grenades by police, responding to stones thrown by the demonstrators, as documented by an AFP photographer.