Iraq Investigators Call for Officials to Be Fired After Wedding Hall Blaze

Investigators looking into the cause of a deadly fire at a wedding hall in northern Iraq called on Sunday for the firing of a half-dozen provincial and local officials for their failure to enforce compliance with even minimal safety standards in the hall’s construction and operation.

In their report, the investigators said that the building had been constructed of highly flammable material, that it lacked fire exits and fire extinguishers, and that it was being used by 900 people — almost twice the number it was designed to accommodate.

In addition, those operating the wedding hall where at least 119 people were killed and 80 to 90 others were injured last week had lit flares indoors, setting off the fire, the investigators said.

Among those the report recommended dismissing were the mayor of the town where the wedding hall is located, the head of the local municipal government and the director of the town’s electricity maintenance department. Also singled out were the provincial heads of fire and safety and of the Civil Defense, and a director in the tourism office, which licensed the hall.

“The mayor was negligent: The hall was built illegally on the land, but the mayor authorized its going into service without the approval of other public agencies,” said Abdul Amir al-Shammari, the Iraqi interior minister, who announced the report’s findings in Baghdad.

There was no immediate comment from those named in the report, but last week, an officer in the provincial Civil Defense, said the owner had been warned to change the ceiling panels because they were dangerous in the event of a fire and had been given an October deadline. But he said that the Civil Defense did not have the power to take away the hall’s license.

The investigation declared the fire in the town of Qaraqosh an accident, but that did little to comfort those who had lost loved ones or others in Iraq’s dwindling Christian community.

The fire began late Tuesday night in the wedding hall, Al Haithem, during the traditional slow dance of the bride and groom.

The investigation found that the owner of the hall or his employees had lit flares that sprayed sparks up about 13 feet, and that those had ignited decorations, some hanging from the ceiling, and others, it appears, twined around the chandeliers. The sparks also set fire to ceiling panels described as highly flammable.

Mr. al-Shammari, the interior minister, said that the hall’s owner, thinking that a short circuit had started the fire, had cut the electricity and plunged the room into darkness, provoking “chaos, panic and a stampede.”

The failure to set limits on the wedding owner’s business practices by every single official at every level seemed almost a textbook example of what happens when governance is absent, whether because of incompetence, corruption or a lack of will, said surviving family members of those who died.

Many people in the area were so deeply grief-stricken that it was difficult for them to believe that such a voracious fire had been an accident. Others worried that politicians were already planning to replace local officials dismissed over the fire with members of an armed group led by Rayan Kildani, a Christian fighter and politician who has been hit by U.S. Treasury sanctions for human rights abuses, as well as corruption.

The armed group, the 50th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Corps, or Hasht al Shaabi, operates in an area of northern Iraq.

“The committee just dismissed the mayor and the director of electricity and the director of municipality, as if the corruption of all of Iraq was found in Qaraqosh,” said the Rev. Boutros Shito, a Syriac Catholic priest in Qaraqosh who lost 10 family members in the fire. His sister was killed after coming from the United States to attend the wedding.

“I do not accept that my family’s blood should be exploited by parties and militias and corrupt people and thieves,” Father Shito said.

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