BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister fired key hospital officials Sunday hours after a fire broke out in an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Baghdad, causing deaths and injuries.
Initial reports indicated the fire at Ibh al-Khatib hospital late Saturday was caused when an oxygen cylinder exploded. Firefighters rushed to battle the flames that raged across the second floor of the hospital. Civil defense teams put out flames until the early hours of the morning.
Ambulances transported dozens of wounded. There were initial reports of over a dozen dead, but authorities had not released official casualty figures as of midday Sunday. The Health Ministry said at least 200 people were rescued from the scene.
The fire came as Iraq grapples with a severe second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Daily virus cases now average around 8,000, the highest since Iraq began recording infection rates early last year. At least 15,200 people have died of coronavirus in Iraq among a total of at least 100,000 confirmed cases.
In response to the fire, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi fired the director-general of the Baghdad Health Department in the al-Rusafa area, where the hospital is located. He also fired the director of Ibh al-Khatib Hospital and its director of engineering and maintenance, according to a statement from the Health Ministry and his office.
After the fire first broke out, Al-Khadhimi held an emergency meeting at the headquarters of the Baghdad Operations Command, which coordinates Iraqi security forces, according to a statement on his Twitter account.
In the meeting he said the incident amounted to negligence.
“Negligence in such matters is not a mistake, but a crime for which all negligent parties must bear responsibility,” he said. He gave Iraqi authorities 24 hours to present the results of an investigation.
U.N. envoy to Iraq Jeannine Hennis-Plasschaert expressed “shock and pain” over the incident in a statement and called for stronger protection measures in hospitals.