Thousands of Iraqis on Wednesday afternoon attended mass funerals for a large number of victims of the fire that broke out overnight at the Hamdaniya wedding hall in northern Iraq's Ninawa province.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani announced 3 days of mourning across the country for the victims, and while there were conflicting statements about the number of dead and injured in the fire, the Iraqi authorities formed an investigation committee to determine its circumstances.
The funeral service was held outdoors with the participation of clerics, crowds of local residents and Hamdaniya residents, who listened to a list of those whose bodies had been identified. The men carried coffins, some wrapped in white and decorated with flowers, while pictures of the victims, including children, topped the processions.
While a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Health spoke of 94 dead and more than 100 wounded, Hassan al-Allaf, deputy governor of Nineveh, said 113 people had been confirmed.
The head of the provincial branch of the Red Crescent said the death toll was not yet final, but exceeded "hundreds of wounded and dozens of dead". The Iraqi Red Crescent announced on its official Facebook account that the incident left 450 victims, without specifying the number of dead and injured.
For his part, the Minister of Health in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Saman Barzanji, confirmed the death of two people injured in the wedding hall fire in the Hamdaniya district, who were transferred to the region's hospitals.
Barzanji said in a press statement that 47 injured people are now being treated in the region's hospitals, including twenty in hospitals in the city of Dohuk, and that the regional authorities sent 36 ambulances and more than 4 tons of medical aid to the Hamdaniya district.
Al-Jazeera correspondent Steer Hakim quoted sources in Nineveh province that some of the victims died of suffocation, while a large number of attendees tried to get out of the main gate of the building, and that the hall did not have equipment to extinguish the fire, causing the fire to widen.
The correspondent quoted medical sources as saying that the death toll is likely to rise, noting that the injured have been transferred to hospitals in Nineveh and the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
A spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Health told Al Jazeera that a large number of the injured were in an unstable condition, and that the critical injuries had been referred to specialized hospitals.
The use of flammable building materials behind the increased intensity of the fire (Reuters)
Causes of fire
Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari said the fire broke out in a large event hall in Hamdaniya after fireworks were lit during the ceremony, causing a roof fire.
An investigation committee has been formed to find out the circumstances of the fire, al-Shammari said, adding that the situation in Mosul's hospitals is under control after the arrival of medical reinforcements from Baghdad.
According to the Iraqi Civil Defense, "preliminary information" indicates the use of "Ecobond" panels, a building material consisting of aluminum and plastic, "highly flammable and "in violation of safety instructions" stipulated by law, which contributed to increasing the intensity of the fire, explaining that what exacerbated the matter is "toxic gas emissions associated with the combustion of these panels."
According to Civil Defense spokesman Jawdat Abdel Rahman, what caused such a large number of victims was that "the emergency exits were closed, and the remaining one door is the main door for the entry and exit of guests." "Safety equipment is inadequate and inadequate for the building," he said, which has also exacerbated the rise in numbers.
Saad Maan, director of the Interior Ministry's Media and Public Relations Department, confirmed that "nine people working in the hall were arrested as a precautionary measure and arrest warrants were issued against four who own this hall," following the incident.
Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Khalid al-Mahna explained the reasons that led to the increase in the number of victims, saying that they were the lack of safety measures, the use of fireworks and the presence of more than a thousand people in the event hall. Preliminary investigations have confirmed the lack of adequate corridors and emergency outlets, he said, as well as the lack of conformity of building materials to the correct specifications.
The Kurdistan Regional Security Council announced on Wednesday the arrest of the owner of the hall where the fire caught Samir Suleiman Karumi Ravu Aso, and handed him over to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.
For his part, Iraqi government spokesman for Al-Awadi acknowledged in an interview with Al-Jazeera that there is a failure of official institutions to follow up on safety procedures, and Al-Awadi said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that the Iraqi Prime Minister ordered to reconsider this file.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Hussein Allawi, an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, said that what happened in Hamdaniya was the result of what he called the period of corruption that has spread in the country over the past two decades and the Iraqi state's preoccupation with restoring calm to Ninawa province.
The Security Media Cell in Iraq said in a post on its Facebook account today that 3 ambulance helicopters were provided in case it is necessary to transfer one of the injured from Nineveh to any place for treatment, explaining that blood donation campaigns were organized and communicate with all the families of the victims and the injured in this incident.
In reactions, Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid described what happened in Hamdaniya as a painful tragedy, stressing the need to open an investigation and find out the circumstances of the incident.
The United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) described the Hamdaniya fire as a massive tragedy and said it was shocked by the heavy loss of life.