At least 12 prematurely born babies were killed in a fire that broke out in the early hours of Wednesday in one of Baghdad’s largest maternity hospitals and was probably caused by an electrical fault, the health ministry said.
Seven other babies and 29 women were rescued from the Yarmuk hospital’s maternity ward and transferred to other hospitals in the capital, the ministry said in a statement.
Firefighters took three hours to put out the blaze that engulfed the ward, according to a medical staffer. Yarmuk is a main hospital on the western side of the capital, with emergency care and teaching facilities among others.
An official at Iraq’s interior ministry confirmed the death toll from the fire, adding that three other babies were being treated for smoke inhalation.
Electrical fires are common in the Iraqi capital and elsewhere across the country because of shoddy maintenance and poor wiring.
The incident is likely to intensify 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 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 country still suffers a shortage of electricity, water, schools and hospitals.
Many of Baghdad’s public hospitals are considered of poor quality, pushing a number of Iraqis to seek private healthcare.
Iraq ranks 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Index.