Middle East

Iraq parents' horror at baby unit fire deaths

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Media captionMother: "They put the victims in boxes as if they were burnt sponge. I couldn't recognise my baby''

Parents of premature babies who died in a hospital fire in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have spoken of their loss, with one saying she could not recognise the remains given to her.

"I found my baby charred," she said.

Officials said at least 12 newborn babies died in a blaze that was probably caused by an electrical fault, and took three hours to put out.

Eight other children and 29 women had to be moved from the unit and transferred to nearby hospitals.

It happened in the maternity unit of the Yarmouk Hospital in the west of the city.

Electrical fires are common in Iraq because of shoddy maintenance and poor wiring, and a lack of fire escapes often adds to the danger.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Shaima Hussein saw the victims' bodies inside the burnt hospital

Shaima Hussein, 36, and her husband were inside the hospital and on their way to see their two-day-old son when the fire broke out. Their path was blocked by a wall of thick smoke.

Mrs Hussein survived after somebody broke a window to help her escape.

"I looked at the victims, I saw them charred," she said. "It was a horrible scene.

"It was very difficult for me to give birth to a child. I have had medical treatment to have a baby.

"After all these efforts I received a charred body."

'It looks like charcoal'

One woman, Umm Ahmed, was looking for a family member's baby.

She said: "They told me 'go find him in the fridge'."

"I found him in a small cardboard box but I'm not even sure if it's our child or a piece of sponge. It looks like charcoal."

'I want them back'

Hussein Omar, 30, said he feared that his week-old twins had died.

Hospital officials had told him to look for them at the other hospitals in Baghdad, he told AP. But he could not find them.

"I couldn't tell their mother who is still recovering from the Caesarean," said Mr Omar.

"I want my baby boy and girl back. The government must give them back to me."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Charred incubators were left outside one of the entrances to the hospital on Wednesday
Image copyright AP
Image caption Women waited for news outside the hospital

'Government doesn't care'

Eshrak Ahmed Jaasar, 41, who was unable to find her four-day-old nephew, blamed the government for the tragedy.

"We pay the hospital employees thousands of Iraqi dinars to allow us in to get our loved ones basic food and milk, which they cannot provide," she said.

"It's a corrupt government that doesn't care about its citizens and lets this happen."

An adviser to the health ministry, Dr Amir al-Mukhtar, said there had been 20 babies inside the maternity unit when the fire erupted around midnight.

The blaze spread very quickly and caused a lot of damage, he added.

A health ministry source told the BBC that 19 of the children and women who survived needed treatment for burns and smoke inhalation.

An official from the Baghdad health directorate, Jassem Lateef al-Hijami, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying: "The hospital is very old and doesn't have fire equipment."

Photos purportedly taken inside the Yarmouk Hospital showed cockroaches crawling out from between broken tiles, bins overflowing with rubbish, dirty toilets, and patients lying on stretchers in a courtyard, the Reuters news agency reports.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Security forces sealed off the maternity unit as forensic teams investigated the blaze
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many of the relatives said they held the government responsible for the tragedy

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