By Nechirvan Mando, Hande Atay Alam, Aqeel Najim and Sana Noor Haq, CNN
(CNN) — A fire tore through a wedding hall in Qaraqosh in northern Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 100 people and injuring 150 others, prompting anger at the lack of safety measures at the venue.
Fireworks were set off at the venue in the Hamdaniya district of northeast Nineveh governorate, the Iraqi Civil Defense said, and an investigative committee was formed to identify the cause of the incident.
“The hall did not meet safety criteria. Because of the fireworks the ceiling collapsed on the people in the hall,” Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari told reporters on Wednesday.
“Justice will be served to those who were negligent,” he added.
Fourteen people were arrested in connection with the incident, Al-Shammari’s office said in a statement on Wednesday, stressing that the results of the investigation will be announced within 72 hours.
There were 1,300 guests when the blaze broke out, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command Spokesperson Major General Pilot Tahseen Al Khafaji told CNN.
The groom, Rivan Esho and his bride Haneen, are both alive and in hospital receiving treatment, the father of the groom told CNN.
“I hold the owner of the hall responsible for what happened at the party because there are no extinguishers or safety measures in the hall,” the father said.
Survivors of the blaze were transferred to hospitals in Nineveh and the nearby Kurdistan region, Nineveh governor Najm Al-Jubouri told Iraqi state news agency INA. He said the final death and injury toll is yet to be determined.
Iraqis have been protesting across the country against corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services – including electricity and clean water – as the country has failed to achieve stability following decades of sanctions and war. In 2019, hundreds of people died in violent protests demanding better living conditions across Iraq.
Negligence by authorities has led to a lack of safety measures amid reconstruction efforts following years of conflict.
The wedding hall where the fire broke out was covered with highly flammable Ecobond panels that violated safety instruction requirements, according to the Iraqi Civil Defense, INA reported.
“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 fire breaks out,” the Iraqi Civil Defense said in a statement.
‘The bride and groom are fine’
Videos from the scene in Qaraqosh show thick smoke billowing out of the Al Haytham Wedding Hall while crowds and ambulances gather outside the venue.
A wedding guest told local media the bride and groom were devastated by the disaster.
“The bride and groom are fine. I was just with them now, but their condition is devastating due to what happened to people here,” the guest told private Iraqi channel Alawla TV.
Injured guests were also transferred to hospitals in the nearby cities of Mosul, Erbil and Duhok, Nader Salm, a 49-year-old translator from Qaraqosh, told CNN.
“There are hundreds of people injured, we are in need of blood,” Salm said. “This tragedy hurt us more than ISIS. At least when ISIS came we could escape, but now a wedding became a graveyard for us.”
Salm added that he has relatives who were injured and killed in the fire, while others are unaccounted for.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa Al-Sudani has instructed his cabinet to assist those affected by the fire, according to a statement from his office.
The Iraqi leader has been in touch with the Nineveh governor by telephone about the incident and ordered a full mobilization to aid the victims, according to his office and INA.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq expressed its condolences to family members of those killed and injured Tuesday, calling the incident “an immense tragedy.”
“Shocked and pained by the horrible loss of life and injuries in the fire,” the mission said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Iraqi government issued a three-day national mourning period following the blaze.
ISIS invaded Qaraqosh in August 2014 during its years-long grip on power in northern Iraq, triggering an exodus of refugees.
The group launched numerous assaults on the predominantly Christian town, destroying much of the infrastructure and leaving it in ruins.
Qaraqosh was liberated by US-backed Iraqi forces in October 2016.
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CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed reporting.