Public anger rises after 11 babies die in maternity ward fire

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Burnt incubators stand outside Yarmuk hospital in west Baghdad on August 10, 2016 after an overnight fire tore through the maternity ward, killing at least 11 premature babies, medical and security sources said. / AFP / SABAH ARAR (Photo credit: SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 11 babies died when a fire broke out in the maternity ward of a Baghdad hospital early Wednesday, the Iraqi Health Ministry said.

The babies were in the pre-term birth unit in Yarmouk Hospital and died of suffocation, said Ahmed al-Rdainy, a spokesman for the ministry.

A preliminary report provided by the Civil Defense indicates the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit.

Amateur footage from the scene, circulated on social media, showed nervous families congregating outside the maternity ward. Other footage showed firefighters entering the charred, waterlogged building, and ambulances racing victims to other hospitals for treatment.

Twenty-nine women delivered babies at Yarmouk hospital Tuesday night, said al-Rdainy. They were all transferred to other hospitals in the Iraqi capital.

Officials cordoned off the hospital’s maternity ward Wednesday. The burned incubators could be seen outside the hospital buildings.

Yarmouk, one of Baghdad’s main hospitals, is situated in the west of the city.

Deaths trigger outrage at government

On social media, the fire triggered a fresh outpouring of anger at the government, blamed for incompetent management of the country’s fraying infrastructure and its apparent inability to protect citizens.

“In the new Iraq, people don’t live more than hours,” wrote one Twitter user.

“We never hear that the parliament or the president’s office have burnt down, only the institutions where the poor people go,” wrote another.

Another Twitter user said that people upset over the infants’ deaths should know that “every day more people die because of the negligence of the Ministry of Health.”

Some called for the resignation of the country’s health minister.

“Their corruption has reached infants only hours old,” wrote another Twitter user.

The blaze was just the latest tragedy to strike Iraq, which is locked in a battle to oust ISIS militants who have captured large swaths of territory, including the country’s second city, Mosul.

Tempers boiled over in the capital last month in the wake of a massive ISIS car bombing in the largely Shiite Karrada neighborhood. About 300 people were killed, many of them perishing in an ensuing inferno in a shopping center.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s entourage was pelted with objects by members of the public when he visited the scene of the Karrada blast, and the country’s interior minister swiftly resigned, citing a lack of “coordination among security systems” as the reason for his departure.

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