Mourners demand accountability, bury loved ones after Iraq wedding fire

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Calls for accountability grew on Thursday for the victims of a deadly fire at an Iraqi wedding celebration in a Christian town as grief-stricken mourners attended a packed memorial service and families buried their loved ones.

More than 100 people died and at least 150 were injured on Tuesday evening in an inferno that government officials have said was enabled by a lack of safety and security measures and the use of highly flammable materials in the building.

In a sermon interrupted at times by the wails of women clad in black, a priest at al-Tahira Church in Hamdaniya - also known as Qaraqosh - told mourners that Iraq had been united in grief but criticized officials for “your corruption, your favoritism.”

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“Nothing is up to standard in this country,” he said as mourners, some crying, others holding pictures of the deceased, listened on.

“We have to hold those who are responsible accountable… enough, enough!”

Criticism of a lax approach to public safety is common in Iraq, a country where the state has been weakened by recurring conflict since the 2003 US invasion, and where services are impaired by pervasive corruption for which few senior officials are ever held to account.

The tragedy has revived memories of deadly fires that swept through two hospitals in Iraq in 2021, killing at least 174 people in all, that were at the time blamed on negligence, lax regulations and corruption.

Government officials have announced the arrest of 14 people over Tuesday night’s fire, including the owners of the events hall, and promised a swift investigation with results announced within 72 hours.

The government has also ordered immediate inspections of large public gathering spaces such as hotels, schools and hospitals.

“There is no such thing as destiny in Christianity; this is manmade,” said Botrous Kareem, a local resident who lost five cousins in the fire and was on his way to a cemetery to attend more burials. “God has nothing to do with this.”

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