At least 11 babies died when a fire broke out in the maternity ward of a Baghdad hospital early Wednesday, an official told CNN, fueling public outrage at perceived shortcomings in the country’s governance.
The newborn infants were in the pre-term birth unit in Yarmouk Hospital and died of suffocation, said Ahmed al-Rdainy, a spokesman for the Iraqi Health Ministry. Their charred incubators could be seen outside the hospital buildings Wednesday.
A preliminary report provided by the Civil Defense indicates the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit — a common occurrence in a country where maintenance is often substandard.
The short circuit occurred in one of the air conditioning units in the pre-term birth facility, and was fueled by the oxygen from the incubators, according to a security source who was at the scene.
The 29 women who had recently given birth in the ward were able to be rescued and were transferred, along with surviving infants, to other hospitals in the Iraqi capital, the ministry spokesman said.
Amateur footage from the scene early Wednesday circulated on social media, showing ambulances racing victims to other hospitals. Other footage showed firefighters entering the charred, waterlogged building, and nervous families congregating outside the ward awaiting news.
Yarmouk, one of Baghdad’s main hospitals, is situated in the western part of the city. Authorities cordoned off the maternity ward Wednesday.
Deaths trigger outrage at government
On social media, the fire triggered a fresh outpouring of anger at the government, blamed for incompetent management of the country’s fraying infrastructure and its apparent inability to protect citizens.
“In the new Iraq, people don’t live more than hours,” wrote one Twitter user.
“We never hear that the parliament or the president’s office have burnt down, only the institutions where the poor people go,” wrote another.
Another Twitter user said that people upset over the infants’ deaths should know that “every day more people die because of the negligence of the Ministry of Health.”
Some called for the resignation of the country’s health minister.
“Their corruption has reached infants only hours old,” wrote another Twitter user.
The blaze was just the latest tragedy to strike Iraq, which is locked in a battle to oust ISIS militants who have captured large swaths of territory, including the country’s second city, Mosul.
Tempers boiled over in the capital last month in the wake of a massive ISIS car bombing in the largely Shiite Karrada neighborhood. About 300 people were killed, many of them perishing in an ensuing inferno in a shopping center.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s entourage was pelted with objects by members of the public when he visited the scene of the Karrada blast, and the country’s interior minister swiftly resigned, citing a lack of “coordination among security systems” as the reason for his departure.