A fire tore through a wedding hall in Qaraqosh in northern Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 100 people and injuring 150 others, Iraqi state news agency INA reported citing local authorities.
Fireworks were set off at the venue in the Hamdaniya district of northeast Nineveh governorate, the Iraqi Civil Defense said, and an investigative committee was formed to identify the cause of the incident.
“The hall did not meet safety criteria. Because of the fireworks the ceiling collapsed on the people in the hall,” Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari told reporters on Wednesday.
“Justice will be served to those who were negligent,” Al-Shammari added.
Survivors of the blaze were transferred to hospitals in Nineveh and the nearby Kurdistan region, Nineveh governor Najm Al-Jubouri told INA. He said the final death and injury toll is yet to be determined.
ISIS invaded Qaraqosh in August 2014, during its years-long grip on power in northern Iraq. The group launched numerous assaults on the predominantly Christian town, destroying much of the infrastructure and leaving it in ruins.
Qaraqosh was liberated by US-backed Iraqi forces in October 2016. But a lack of resources complicated efforts to rebuild the town with adequate safety measures.
The wedding hall where the fire broke out was covered with highly flammable Ecobond panels that violated safety instructions requirements, according to the Iraqi Civil Defense, INA reported.
“The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when fire breaks out,” the Iraqi Civil Defense said in a statement.
‘The bride and groom are fine’
Videos from the scene in Qaraqosh show thick smoke billowing out of the Al Haytham Wedding Hall while crowds and ambulances gather outside the venue.
A wedding guest told local media the bride and groom were safe, but devastated by the disaster.
“The bride and groom are fine. I was just with them now, but their condition is devastating due to what happened to people here,” the guest told private Iraqi channel Alawla TV.
“There are hundreds of people injured, we are in need of blood,” Salm said. “This tragedy hurt us more than ISIS. At least when ISIS came we could escape, but now a wedding became a graveyard for us.”
Salm added that he has relatives who were injured and killed in the fire, while others are unaccounted for.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani has instructed his cabinet to assist those affected by the fire, according to a statement from his office.
The Iraqi leader has been in touch with the Nineveh governor by telephone about the incident and ordered a full mobilization to aid the victims, according to his office and INA.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq expressed its condolences to family members of those killed and injured Tuesday, calling the incident “an immense tragedy.”
“Shocked and pained by the horrible loss of life and injuries in the fire,” the mission said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Iraqi government issued a three-day national mourning period following the blaze.