ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish and Turkmen lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament on Friday demanded an investigation into the causes of a fire that tore through a historic market in the city of Kirkuk earlier in the week after store owners expressed skepticism that it was caused by faulty electrical wiring, as claimed by local authorities.
The blaze broke out late Monday night and burned through dozens of shops in Kirkuk's "Qaisary" bazaar, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
The bazaar's narrow alleyways were reported to have impeded effective firefighting efforts, as well as the fact that it occurred overnight and into the early morning.
Officials initially said that an electric short-circuit might have led to the incident, but many shop owners were unconvinced and claimed instead that they had been targeted in a nefarious ethnic-based plot by others.
"We call for the formation of a higher committee supervised by the federal government to an urgent and immediate investigation into the causes of the fire" and to "compensate" the affected business-owners, said the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) faction in the Iraqi parliament, Rebwar Taha.
Taha, a representative for Kirkuk Province, also asked the local government to "direct the procedures of rebuilding the damaged market and provide all services so that it is completed."
These demands were repeated by other lawmakers representing Kirkuk in the national parliament in Baghdad.
The Iraqi Turkmen Front's leader in parliament, Hassan Touran, said recently that the fire was deliberately set in order to target the "Turkmen presence" in the market, built 163 years ago in the Ottoman era.
Security forces say they have opened an investigation into the fire's causes.
This is the worst such incident that has taken place in this historic market, located within one of the city's main shopping districts and one that is guarded by night.
Fires of this sort often occur in the winter months as shopkeepers, at times due to forgetfulness, leave heating appliances on after leaving work.
In addition, electrical fires have been a chronic issue in Kurdish cities and throughout Iraq in general as they suffer from a decades-old infrastructure and low safety standards, especially in older buildings.
In August, a similar fire burned down Erbil’s Qaisary bazaar. Two months later, another erupted in the Kurdistan Region capital’s clothing market known as Langa, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to both shopkeepers and the government alike.
On November 20, a blaze thought to be caused by an electric heater burned down a house, killing an entire family of seven in the city of Chamchamal, in Sulaimani Province.
In this year's summer months, there was a rash of fires and explosions at several military weapons storage facilities across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Editing by John J. Catherine