Tragedies Born of Negligence in Iraq

    122 killed by a fire in a wedding hall. 82 killed by a fire in a Covid-19 hospital. Three months later, another hospital fire claimed the lives of 92 more.

    Though they may seem to be freak accidents, these fires were preventable tragedies sharing one common theme: gross negligence.

    Government investigations into these fires found that local authorities were negligent in their failure to enforce safety regulations and conduct inspections. Contractors used cheap, highly flammable construction materials to cut costs. Corruption allowed violators to act with impunity. Death tolls were exacerbated by absent or insufficient fire escapes, sprinkler systems, and evacuation plans.

    Authorities recorded 32,400 fires in federal Iraq and 7,546 in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 2022. The two leading causes were voltage fluctuations and defective wires in commercial and residential areas, often because contractors cut corners in violation of building codes.

    It’s not just fires, either.

    In 2019, an overcrowded ferry sunk near Mosul, killing 128 people and leading to the sacking of then-governor Nawfal Hammadi. Investigations suggested that orders from the river police stating conditions were unsafe for operation were ignored, with river speeds more than double the safely operable limit. The ferry was carrying 287 people when it sank; maximum capacity was 80.

    In January, a building under construction collapsed, killing three and injuring nine. Two months later, the Iraqi Civil Defense Directorate warned that more than 2,500 buildings across Iraq are on the verge of collapse, blaming authorities greenlighting sub-standard buildings and leading to the evacuation of residents from homes at risk.

    The Iraqi government imprisoned, fired, or fined those whose negligence was found to be responsible for these tragedies, as it should. But, just as importantly, authorities must take steps to prevent these tragedies in the first place by enforcing rules on fire safety, construction standards, and reliable transport.  

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