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12 newborns dead in hospital blaze

BAGHDAD, Aug 10, (Agencies): A fire ripped through a maternity ward at a Baghdad hospital overnight, killing 12 newborn babies, government officials 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. Some of the babies who perished were prematurely born, a doctor at the hospital said. The hospital director, Saad Hatem Ahmed, said the blaze broke out late on Tuesday night and that the initial investigation indicated it was an electrical fire.

Ahmed said 29 female patients and eight 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 dead babies were preemies but not all of them,” said one of the doctors at the Yarmouk hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Outside, crying relatives claimed some of the 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.” Nearby, Shaima Hassan stood dazed and trembling in shock after losing her two-day-old son. The 36-year old had spent more than a year visiting hospitals in and outside Iraq trying to conceive.

“I waited for ages to have this baby and when I finally had him, it took only a second to lose him,” she said, holding a bunch of blackened documents with her hands, covered with burns. She recounted how the chaos began at midnight at the ward, located on the ground floor. A well that pumps oil from the Kirkuk fields in northern Iraq was blown up on Wednesday, setting some production facilities on fire, an official at state-run North Oil Company said.

Firefighters were still at work to contain the fire at the well that pumps 2,500 barrels per day (bpd), the official said. The explosion happened in the early hours of Wednesday, most likely caused by sabotage, he said. The well is under the control of Kurdish peshmerga fighters that are taking part in the war on Islamic State. The ultra-hardline group is deployed west of Kirkuk.

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