About 100 dead in Iraq wedding hall fire as officials warn the toll could rise

People at site of deadly wedding hall fire in Iraq's Nineveh province
A fire that raced through a hall hosting a wedding in northern Iraq has killed about 100 people, authorities said Wednesday.
(Farid Abdulwahed / Associated Press)

A raging fire apparently caused by fireworks set off to celebrate a wedding consumed a hall packed with guests in northern Iraq, killing about 100 people and injuring 150 others. Authorities warned Wednesday that the death toll could rise.

Authorities said that flammable building materials contributed to the latest disaster to hit Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority. In the fire’s chaotic aftermath, officials offered conflicting death tolls, and security officials said they detained staff at the wedding hall as part of their investigation.

The fire happened in the Hamdaniya area of Iraq’s Nineveh province, authorities said, a predominantly Christian area just outside the city of Mosul, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad.


There was no official word on the cause of the blaze, but the Kurdish television news channel Rudaw aired footage showing pyrotechnics shooting up from the floor of the event and setting a chandelier aflame.

Multiple witnesses, including 50-year-old wedding guest Faten Youssef, said the fire started as the bride and groom began their slow dance. The flames raced through plastic decorations and the ceiling started collapsing, she said.

“Flames started falling on us,” Youssef told the Associated Press. “Things were falling down and blocked the way to the exit.”

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She said her family found their way out through a kitchen, after they struggled through smoke and flames and her son failed to kick through a jammed exit door.

In the blaze’s aftermath, only charred metal and debris could be seen as people walked through the site, the only light coming from television cameras and the lights of onlookers’ cellphones.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the bride and groom were among those hurt.

Survivors arrived at local hospitals in bandages, receiving oxygen, as their families milled in hallways and outside as workers organized more oxygen cylinders. Some of the injured included children. Ambulance sirens wailed for hours after the fire as paramedics brought out the injured.

People at burned-out wedding hall in northern Iraq
A fire that raced through a wedding hall in northern Iraq has killed at least 100 people, authorities said.
(Farid Abdulwahed / Associated Press)

Extravagant wedding ceremonies are common in Iraq, as in many Middle Eastern countries. Families often invite hundreds of relatives and members of the broader community, spending heavily on spectacular ceremonies with elaborately decorated halls, music and entertainers, often including pyrotechnics.

Casualty figures fluctuated in the hours after the incident. An initial Health Ministry statement, carried by the state-run Iraqi News Agency, said the blaze killed more than 100 people and injured 150. Health officials in Nineveh province put the death toll at 114, while Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul Amir Shammari later put the death toll at 93.

A Health Ministry official, speaking to the Associated Press at midday Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he did not have authorization to talk to journalists, said that 30 bodies had been identified by relatives, but the rest were so badly burned that they would require DNA identification.

He put the death toll at 94, with around 100 people still receiving medical treatment. “The death toll is expected to rise as some are in critical condition,” he said.

Ahmed Dubardani, a health official in the province, told Rudaw that many of those injured suffered serious burns.

“The majority of them were completely burned, and some others had 50% to 60% of their bodies burned,” Dubardani said. “This is not good at all. The majority of them were not in good condition.”

Father Rudi Saffar Khoury, a priest at the wedding, said the fire “was a disaster in every sense of the word.”

The number of Christians in Iraq today is estimated at 150,000, compared with 1.5 million in 2003. Iraq’s population is more than 40 million.

Over the last two decades, Iraq’s Christian minority has been violently targeted by extremists, first by Al Qaeda and then by Islamic State. Although the Nineveh Plains, the Christians’ historic homeland, was wrested back from Islamic State six years ago, some towns are still mostly rubble and lack basic services. Many Christians have left for Europe, Australia or the United States.

Ruins of wedding hall hit by fire in northern Iraq
Iraqi officials say a wedding hall hit by a deadly fire used a highly flammable type of “sandwich panel” cladding that is illegal in the country.
(Farid Abdulwahed / Associated Press)

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Sudani ordered an investigation into the fire and asked the country’s interior and health officials to provide relief, his office said in a statement online.

Hamdaniya is on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains and under the control of its central government, though it is close to and claimed by Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government. Masrour Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish region, ordered hospitals there to help those hurt in the blaze.

The different governments being involved in the response to the fire added to the uncertainty over the blaze’s toll.

The United Nations’ mission to Iraq offered its condolences over the blaze as well, describing its staff as “shocked and hurt by the huge loss of life and injuries” in the blaze.

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Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan, in a video from the wedding hall, said that the primary forensic report described a “lack of safety and security measures” at the venue. Iraqi security forces arrested nine workers at the venue as part of their investigation, said Abdullah Jabouri, a security official who heads the Nineveh Operations Command.

Civil defense officials quoted by the Iraqi News Agency said the wedding hall’s exterior was decorated with a highly flammable type of “sandwich panel” cladding that is illegal in the country.

“The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when the fire breaks out,” the civil defense officials said.

Experts say cheaper sandwich panels don’t always meet stricter safety standards and are especially dangerous on buildings without any breaks to slow or halt a possible blaze. That includes the 2017 Grenfell fire in London that killed 72 people in the greatest loss of life in a fire on British soil since World War II, as well as multiple high-rise fires in the United Arab Emirates.

Similar panels have been blamed in several previous fires in Iraq. In July 2021, a blaze at a hospital in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah was determined to have been fueled by sandwich panels. It killed between 60 and 92 people, according to conflicting statements by officials at the time.