'In the New Iraq, People Don’t Live More Than Hours'

The deaths of 11 babies in a blaze at a Baghdad hospital are likely to increase anger about corruption in the country.

The Yarmuk Hospital in 2004 (Saurabh Das / Reuters)

NEWS BRIEF An electrical fire is being blamed for the deaths Wednesday of at least 11 babies at a maternity ward in Baghdad.

The Yarmuk Hospital, in the west of the Iraqi capital, receives support from the government and serves lower-income patients who pay very little or nothing for treatment. The fire started, reportedly, when an oxygen bottle burst just after midnight and started an electrical fire in the ward for premature babies. It took firefighters about three hours to extinguish the flames. The incident is likely to increase public anger over widespread corruption. Indeed, one Twitter user wrote: “In the new Iraq, people don’t live more than hours.”

The hospital had been in bad shape for some time, as Reuters reported:

Pictures posted on social media showed the hospital in a state of neglect, with cockroaches crawling out from between broken tiles, dustbins overflowing with rubbish, dirty toilets and patients lying on stretchers in the courtyard.

The relative of a patient who died recently in the hospital from meningitis said he saw cockroach crawling along the tube of an oxygen mask.

"It was so dirty," he said. "We had to bring our own bed sheets."

In many parts of the country, 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion, people still go without electricity and running water, and the schools and hospitals are dysfunctional. As Reuters noted, Iraq ranks 161 out of 168 on the Transparency International Corruption Index. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has tried to battle corruption since he took office two years ago, but he’s faced push back. The country depends on oil revenue, and given the international slump in prices, it’s facing financial challenges.