Baghdad hospital blaze leaves 82 dead

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Eighty-two people have died in a fire that swept through a hospital in southeastern Baghdad.

Some 110 others were injured in the early-morning Sunday blaze at the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which cares for COVID-19 patients, Iraq's state news agency INA quoted interior ministry officials as saying.

The ministry doubted there was a criminal motive for the fire that reports say started at an intensive care unit.

"Investigations are ongoing. There are technical and criminal investigations to determine the circumstances of the incident," the head of the ministry's press office, Saad Maan, told INA.

Some attributed the blaze to an electrical short-circuit while others said it was caused by faulty oxygen devices, INA reported.

The blaze gutted the ground floor of the hospital, including a room where COVID-19 patients were on ventilators, said an eyewitness.

After the fire broke out, local mosques called on people to hurry to the hospital and take part in rescue efforts, said Sejad Abdel-Hadi.

"Dozens of young people stormed the departments hit by the fire," he said.

Tens of patients were rescued and transferred to other hospitals by volunteers by private car.

"There were charred bodies," he added.

Later on Sunday, the country's health minister, the Baghdad governor and the head of the city health department were suspended, and the government referred them to an inquiry into the tragedy.

The government also decided at an emergency meeting to launch another investigation, to be led by Interior Minister Othman al-Ghaneimi.

The government set five days for completing that inquiry.

Earlier, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi ordered the detention of the hospital director as well as its security and maintenance officials, pending investigations.

"Frankly speaking, this incident harms Iraqi national security," he said.

Al-Kadhemi ordered the dead in the fire to be regarded as "martyrs", a designation that entitles their families to financial rights.

"Today, martyrs have fallen as a result of carelessness. If we do nothing, others will fall tomorrow," he added in a statement.

Iraq declared three days of national mourning.

Iraq has had more than a million coronavirus cases, becoming the Arab country with the highest infection tally.