Uproar over alleged barring of Iraq orphans from shopping centre

BAGHDAD (AFP) - A furious online backlash has erupted against a chic Baghdad shopping centre after volunteers said their party of 25 Iraqi war orphans was denied entry.

Volunteers from the Ruhmaa Benahm orphan association had hoped to give the orphans a rare treat for the Eid al-Fitr holiday by taking them to a restaurant and playground at the mall, group spokesman Ibrahim Taha said.

The restaurant was "reserved and paid for" but the party was denied entry, Taha said.

The children, aged between seven and 15, had likely been barred because staff had seen the name of the orphan association on the reservation, Taha said.

"When I showed up with the children, the manager refused to let us in saying they would disturb the playground and the restaurant," he said.

The volunteers filmed themselves at the entrance to Mansour mall - which is Baghdad's largest and was built in 2013 at a cost of US$35 million (S$47 million).

The video was shared nearly 5,000 times on social media.

The mall's management issued a statement on Sunday (June 17) saying security guards had only asked the group to wait outside until space was freed.

"It is a totally normal procedure and we are astonished by this video," the statement said.

But outraged Twitter and Facebook users pointed to temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius outside.

The hashtag "Boycott Mansour mall" was used 15,000 times and the mall's rating on its Facebook page plunged from five stars to one star in the space of a few hours.

"All the world's countries respect martyrs and their families - this mall deserves nothing better than a boycott," Ismail al-Khazali wrote on the orphan association's page.

"Shame on anyone who enters this mall before the management apologises for insulting the orphans," posted another user, Hakib al-Shebli.