Relatives say neglect caused Iraq hospital fire

Two days after a deadly fire at a COVID-19 hospital in Baghdad, Youssef Jabbar returned, hoping to find the remains of his grandmother, who was killed along with at least 81 others.

"We went in in the beginning, I was faced by smoke and fire. By force I managed to take my mother out. She was next to me inside. I took her out immediately. I went back up, through the window but came too late for my grandmother."

Eyewitnesses, first responders and some medical staff told Reuters the fire spread quickly after the oxygen tank explosion.

They said fire extinguishers didn't work and the fire alarm system was broken.

Iraq's civil defence first-responder services said they had previously warned authorities of the fire risks at the hospital.

These accusations are being leveled by families who are mourning for their loved ones, including Mohammed Attar, who lost three relatives the the blaze:

"What are my feelings, the one who lost three people, what should he do? Except the minister of health is not good. Health personnel are not good. Those who take care of equipment are not good. There is nothing good in the health system. Everything is old and outdated. The hospital is out of date and bad. Pipes are out of date."

Iraq's latest tragedy is a symptom of the mismanagement that has dogged the country's healthcare system for years, even at times of relative peace.

It has fueled anger for those who say the government's inability to improve services and root out state-wide corruption has cost lives.

The country has some of the lowest numbers of doctors and nurses per capita in the region, partly owing to an exodus of qualified medicswho have at various times been killed, kidnapped or assaulted.

In the aftermath of the devastating fire, the government has vowed to hold those responsible to account.

The country's health minister was immediately suspended.

But many Iraqis feel the move will make little difference to a healthcare system that has suffered decades of neglect.