Iraq hospital heads abandon posts after fire tragedy

People chant slogans as they walk with mock coffins in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on July 15, 2021, protesting corruption following a fire in a coronavirus ward at Imam Hussein Teaching Hospital. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NASIRIYAH, IRAQ (AFP) - Several hospital administrators in a southern Iraqi province have abandoned their posts, local authorities said on Saturday (July 17), after arrest warrants were issued for senior staff following a deadly hospital fire in the city of Nasiriyah.

Saad al-Majid, health director of the southern governorate of Dhi Qar, told AFP that management teams of five hospitals had quit as "they're unwilling to assume responsibility" over any possible repeat of the tragedy.

At least 60 people were killed in the blaze late on Monday at a temporary facility for Covid-19 patients at Nasiriyah's Al-Hussein Hospital in Dhi Qar fuelled by oxygen canisters exploding.

It was the second such tragedy in Iraq in three months.

In April, a fire at a Covid hospital in Baghdad - also sparked by exploding oxygen cylinders - killed 82 people, prompting the country's health minister to resign.

Local journalist Adnan Toame said the resignations among senior hospital staff at a time of public outrage were "embarrassing".

"They are shirking their responsibilities when they should instead be redoubling efforts to face up to this crisis," he said.

"This is a clear sign of the collapse of the health system in the governorate," chimed in Nasiriyah activist and journalist Adnan Dhafar.

On Saturday, a small fire broke out at Al-Haboubi hospital in Nasiriyah but it was quickly put out by fire crews, with no fatalities recorded.

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Iraq - whose oil-dependent economy is still recovering from decades of war and international sanctions - has recorded more than 1.4 million coronavirus cases, including over 17,000 deaths.

Much of its health infrastructure is dilapidated, and investment in public services has been hamstrung by endemic corruption.

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