Iraq has entered a state of mourning for three days as the nation grapples with the aftermath of a devastating fire that swept through a wedding ceremony, claiming the lives of at least 100 individuals.
Survivors and grieving families gathered at the Syriac Catholic church of Al-Tahera to attend a Christian mass on Thursday, just two days after the tragic incident.
Emotions ran high as mourners wept, ululated, and embraced one another beneath the arches of the church, where portraits of the victims adorned the staircase, serving as a poignant reminder of the diverse ages and backgrounds of those lost.
Najiba Yuhana, 55, who lost multiple relatives in the fire, expressed the indescribable pain and sadness felt by the community. “There is anger and sadness that is indescribable and without compare,” she said.
The authorities have attributed the fire to indoor fireworks that ignited ceiling decorations in the reception center, constructed from highly flammable materials that emitted toxic smoke. Amid the panic that ensued, nearly 900 guests attempted to flee through limited escape doors, resulting in crush injuries, burns, and smoke inhalation for at least 150 people.
While some victims were laid to rest on Wednesday, more funerals are scheduled in the coming days. The disaster struck Qaraqosh, a town in the Nineveh Plains near Mosul, known for its small Christian community, still recovering from the dark days of Islamic State group jihadist rule from 2014 to 2017. Today, the town is home to 26,000 Christians, representing half of its original population.
Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani, who declared three days of national mourning, visited the province on Thursday to meet with the injured and the families of the victims. Outrage has grown over the high death toll, attributed in part to lax safety regulations, a lack of fire exits, and the use of highly flammable materials.
Authorities have arrested 14 individuals, including the venue’s owner, 10 employees, and three suspected of setting off the fireworks, according to the interior minister. Safety standards often go unenforced in Iraq, a nation still recovering from decades of turmoil, corruption, and dilapidated infrastructure.
This tragedy joins a list of previous incidents, including two hospital fires in 2021 that claimed dozens of lives and a ferry disaster in Mosul in 2019, which resulted in the deaths of at least 100 people, primarily women and children.
Riad Bahnam, 53, who lost his sister-in-law and six-year-old great-niece in the wedding fire, likened the incident to the Mosul boat tragedy and expressed his anger at the human errors that led to the disaster.
He called for accountability, stating, “Any official who has committed negligence in giving the required authorizations to the owner is also responsible. They are supposed to demand compliance with safety standards.”
The nation continues to mourn as questions about safety and accountability loom in the wake of this devastating event.