Grieving Iraqis blame institutionalised corruption for hospital blaze

Iraqi security forces sealed off the charred Ibn Al Khateeb hospital in Baghdad on Sunday, as forensic and investigative teams looked for the cause of an oxygen tank explosion in an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients. Parts of the walls and windows of the second floor were blackened by soot from the inferno that followed the blast. 

The blaze killed at least 82 people and injured 110. Outside, survivors and eyewitnesses were haunted by flashbacks to Saturday night's events. “It was horrific,” Jabar Mohammed, 52, who was with his Covid-19-infected brother on the hospital's third floor, told The National. “First, we heard the explosion and then we saw the fire coming up.” 

He ran outside the room and saw residents from the area, but no other patients. “They rushed over to us and grabbed my brother with his oxygen tank to take him out to the other section of the hospital,” the father of six said. He said the hospital lacked basic safety mechanisms for such incidents – such as a sprinkler system. 

Mr Mohammed blamed the country’s endemic corruption and what Iraqis call muhasasa, a quota-based system introduced after the 2003 US and UK invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Under muhasasa, government posts are distributed based on sect first, followed by party affiliation, regardless of qualifications. 

“That’s the result when we have incompetent government officials,” Mr Mohammed said. “We will not be able to rebuild our country without getting rid of muhasasa.” Mohammed Hameed and his four brothers rushed from the nearby mosque to rescue patients when they heard cries for help. “Women suffocated and no one could approach to rescue them,” Mr Hameed, 31, said. 

Another man, who gave only his nickname, Abu Hussein, said he rescued five people, two women and three men. “It was chaotic and tragic, you couldn’t see the person next to you due to heavy smoke,” he said. "There were many charred bodies, some they couldn't remove as they were stuck to the beds." 

by Sinan Mahmoud

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