(ZENIT News / Qaraqosh, 09.28.2023).- IRAQ’S Christians have been plunged into mourning, after a fire at a wedding celebration left more than 100 people dead and 150 injured.
The blaze broke out at Al Haitham Hall, on the outskirts of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plains, where the wedding reception of a Syriac Catholic couple was being held on the evening of Tuesday (26th September).
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil issued a statement which said “[W]ords cannot adequately describe the pain of those bringing their loved ones to their final resting places in their ancient land.
“What was to be a time of joy has now turned into a whole community in mourning and deep shock”.
Archbishop Warda said: “Patriarchs, bishops, and priests from all confessions gathered today in Qaraqosh to bury those who had perished”.
According to Archbishop Warda this tragedy has brought the people of Iraq together across confessional lines.
He said: “The Sunnis have cancelled their celebrations of the birth of their prophet Mohammed, and we have statements of condolences and support from the Shi‘a community as well.
“The Governments of Iraq and Kurdistan also announced three days of mourning.”
According to civil defence authorities, Al Haitham Hall was built using prefabricated panels which were “highly flammable and contravened safety standards”.
While the cause of the blaze has not yet been officially confirmed, preliminary reports indicate that the ceiling caught alight after indoor fireworks were let off.
The authorities stated: “The fire caused some parts of the ceiling to fall”. The blaze spread quickly, trapping many of the 1,000 guests.
Nineveh’s Deputy Governor Hassan Al Allaq told Reuters that 113 people have been confirmed dead so far.
But some people are still unaccounted for, with bodies being hard to identify because of the severity of the burns.
Dozens are still receiving treatment in hospital for major burns and toxic-fume inhalation.
Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains have endured social and economic hardships following the Daesh (ISIS) invasion of the region in August 2014.
ACN has supported rebuilding projects in Qaraqosh, helping the Christians that returned there following the defeat of the jihadists.
Archbishop Warda concluded: “I ask for your prayers for those souls we have lost and the severely injured. I ask you to pray for the Syriac community and their families within Iraq and the diaspora.”