Iraq's health ministry denies reports that over 90 died in hospital fire, puts official number at 60

The aftermath of Monday night's deadly blaze that overtook a COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. (Photo: Reuters)
The aftermath of Monday night's deadly blaze that overtook a COVID-19 ward of a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. (Photo: Reuters)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The Iraqi Ministry of Health and Environment announced on Wednesday that earlier statements by local officials in the city of Nasiriyah that put the death toll of a tragic hospital fire there earlier this week at over 90 were incorrect and that the true number was instead over a third less at 60. 

A massive blaze erupted at the coronavirus ward of a teaching hospital in the southern Iraqi city on Monday night, killing and wounding dozens. According to initial investigations, the fire was likely sparked by faulty wires and quickly spread to combustible oxygen tanks, which ignited.

Read More: Fire breaks out at Iraqi COVID-19 hospital, killing 40: Health officials

As of late Tuesday evening, health officials in Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriyah is located, indicated that the death toll from the catastrophic fire had risen to 92 as a local court issued arrest warrants for 13 government workers as a result of the fire. 

Read More: As hospital fire death toll reaches 92, Iraqi court issues arrest warrants for local officials

As anger mounted among family members and the general public, the government announced that Nasiriya's directors of health and civil defense, plus the director of the hospital, had been suspended from their duties per order of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose predecessor resigned over a nationwide protests movement against institutional corruption, poor services, and a low standard of living.

The health ministry claimed in a statement on Wednesday that "the media and social networks" were, in fact, to blame for the incorrectly high casualty numbers.

"After the end of the civil defense and forensic medicine’s work in Dhi Qar province, the total number of martyrs of the isolation hall incident in Imam al-Hussein Hospital reached 39 martyrs with a known identity and 21 martyrs whose identity is unknown," read a statement.

It added that "necessary measures are being taken to determine the identities of the unidentified bodies, and this will be announced once the necessary forensic medical procedures are completed."

Less than three months ago, a similar fire occurred at Ibn al-Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, ultimately killing more than 80 and injuring roughly 100, according to official government figures.

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, however, has claimed that the incident left some 130 people dead.

Local health officials were fired as a result and Iraqi Health Minister Hassan al-Tamimi submitted his resignation in the wake of the tragic blaze.

Read More: Iraqi health minister resigns over deadly Baghdad hospital fire

A commission investigation concluded that storage procedures were inadequate and that the casualties were made far worse because the building’s corridors were overcrowded with visiting loved ones.

Crowds in Nasiriyah held vigil for the victims on Tuesday night, lighting candles in their memory.

Read More: PHOTOS: Iraqis light candles in memory of Nasiriyah hospital inferno victims

Editing by John J. Catherine