Hotel fire in northern Iraq claims 28 lives

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A fire swept through a hotel in northern Iraq filled with foreigners, killing at least 28 people as some desperate guests jumped from windows in attempt to escape the flames, officials and witnesses said Friday.

At least half of the dead were foreigners, some of whom worked in Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil industry and cellphone sector. The blaze Thursday night at the five-story Soma Hotel in the city of Sulaymaniya was probably caused by faulty electrical wiring, authorities said.

A lack of fire escapes contributed to the death toll, as most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, local officials said.

Kurdistan’s regional government formed a committee to investigate the safety standards at the hotel and the performance of the firefighters who arrived to douse the blaze. The committee will ask “why there were no safety procedures in this hotel,” the regional government’s prime minister, Barham Salih, told reporters. He warned that if there was any negligence, those responsible would be punished.

An official from the Asiacell phone company, Farouq Mulla Mustafa, criticized the conditions at the hotel, saying he was told safety precautions were lacking.

“According to people who survived, there were no emergency ladders in the building and the door leading to the rooftop was locked,” he said.

Officials at the hotel could not be reached for comment.

Survivors described a chaotic scene of smoke and flames that quickly overwhelmed the hotel.

“I was looking for my friends who were in the hotel. When I reached the third floor the fire happened,” said British national Merwan Assad, who broke a leg after diving from a window.

Some hotel guests said they were surprised that smoke entered their rooms. One man said he saw two people die after they jumped from a window.

“I warned my family that there is a fire,” one guest told the satellite news channel Al Hurra. “We left the room for the elevator. We left everything in the room.... We were lucky the elevator worked.”

Officials said the dead included one Cambodian, two Bangladeshis, one Canadian, two Australians, one Ecuadorean, one South African, one Briton, one Lebanese and one Venezuelan. They worked for foreign oil firms, Asiacell and other companies.

The semiautonomous Kurdish region has wooed foreign investment. The regional government has touted itself as the “other Iraq” due to its warm relations with the U.S. and the absence of the violence in Baghdad and other spots in the country.

A special correspondent contributed to this report.