BAGHDAD – A fire ripped through a maternity ward at a Baghdad hospital overnight, killing 11 newborn babies, an Iraqi spokesman said Wednesday, a deadly blaze that was likely caused by faulty electrical wiring.
By morning, grief-stricken fathers searched for their missing newborns in vain while angry relatives gathered outside the Yarmouk hospital in western Baghdad blamed the government for the tragedy.
Iraqi Health Ministry spokesman Ahmed al-Roudaini said the blaze broke out late on Tuesday night and that the initial investigation indicated it was an electrical fire. Mada Press, an independent news agency in Baghdad, reported that 29 female patients and seven babies were moved from the ward where the fire broke out and transferred to another hospital.
Baghdad authorities initially sealed off the hospital but later allowed some media into the site.
At the maternity ward, forensic teams in masks and protective gloves were seen searching through the rubble and charred pieces of furniture. A yellow tape stretched across the ward entrance, preventing reporters from getting closer.
Some of the crying relatives outside claimed their babies were still missing and demanded an answer from authorities.
One father, 30-year-old Hussein Omar, a construction worker, said he lost twins in the blaze, a baby boy and a girl born last week. The hospital told him to go look for them at another Baghdad hospital where some of the patients were moved to during the fire.
He said he looked and couldn't find them anywhere so he came back to Yarmouk. The hospital staff then told him to go look at the morgue.
"I only found charred pieces of flesh," Omar said, crying. "I want my baby boy and girl back. The government must give them back to me."
Eshrak Ahmed Jaasar, 41, said she is unable to find her four-day-old nephew.
"I came early this morning to see my nephew and his mother, but they told me about the fire," Jasaar said. "My nephew is still missing and his mother was moved to another hospital ward."
She said she was still in shock and felt very bitter.
"We pay the hospital employees thousands of Iraqi dinars to allow us in to get our loved ones basic food and milk, which they cannot provide," Jasaar said. "It's a corrupt government that doesn't care about its citizens and lets this happen."
Electrical fires are common in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere across the country because of shoddy maintenance and poor wiring. A lack of fire escapes also contributes to the danger whenever a fire breaks out. There is also widespread failure by construction companies and those providing building material to follow accepted standards.