By Maher Nazeh and Saif Hameed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Thirteen prematurely born babies were killed in a fire that broke out early on Wednesday in a maternity ward in a Baghdad hospital and was probably caused by an electrical fault, Iraqi authorities said.
Eleven or 12 other babies and 29 women were rescued from the Yarmuk hospital’s maternity ward and transferred to other hospitals, Hani al-Okabi, a member of parliament who previously managed a health directorate in Baghdad, told journalists after visiting the hospital and speaking to the management.
Firefighters and hospital staff took about three hours to put out the blaze that engulfed the ward, according to one medic. Yarmuk is a major hospital on the western side of the capital, with emergency care facilities among others.
“My son’s birth was difficult,” Shaima Hussein, one of the grieving mothers, told Reuters TV at the gate of the hospital. She said she was not given a chance to rescue her newborn.
“I came with milk powder for him, and then this happened … They shut the electricity and the doors,” she said.
Hassan Omar said he was upset that the hospital would not give him information about his twins other than that he may have to have DNA checks to check if they were among the dead.
“I went to the other hospital, they are not there, so where are they?” he said.
Health Minister Adila Hamoud offered to resign if the investigation proved that the fire was caused by negligence at her department. She also announced in a statement the sacking of the hospital director.
The incident intensified public accusations of state corruption and mismanagement.
Pictures posted on social media showed the hospital in a state of neglect, with cockroaches crawling out from between broken tiles, dustbins overflowing with rubbish, dirty toilets and patients lying on stretchers in the courtyard.
The relative of a patient who died recently in the hospital from meningitis said he saw a cockroach crawling along the tube of an oxygen mask. “It was so dirty,” he said. “We had to bring our own bed sheets.”
Thirteen years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the oil-rich Arab state still suffers a shortage of electricity, water, schools and hospitals.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been trying for more than two years to tackle corruption in Iraq, which ranks 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Index, but has encountered resistance from much of the political elite.
Graft has exacerbated the effects on the economy of a sharp decline in oil revenue caused by falling crude prices and the costs of fighting Islamic State, the militant group that has controlled large parts of northern and western Iraq since 2014.
(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Mark Heinrich)