Iraq Wedding Hall Fire Kills at Least 100

MOSUL, Iraq — A fire that raced through a hall hosting a Christian wedding in northern Iraq killed at least 100 people and injured 150 others, the authorities said on Wednesday, warning that the death toll could rise higher.

The fire happened in the Hamdaniya area of Nineveh Province, the authorities said. That is a predominantly Christian area just outside of the city of Mosul, some 205 miles northwest of the capital, Baghdad.

Television footage showed flames rushing over the wedding hall as the fire took hold. In the blaze’s aftermath, only charred metal and debris could be seen as people walked through the scene, the only light coming from television cameras and onlookers’ mobile phones.

Survivors arrived at local hospitals, receiving oxygen and bandages, as family members milled through hallways and outside.

A Health Ministry spokesman, Saif al-Badr, gave the casualty figures via the state-run Iraqi News Agency.

“All efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate accident,” Mr. al-Badr said.

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

Najim al-Jubouri, the provincial governor of Nineveh, said some of the injured had been transferred to regional hospitals. He cautioned that there were not yet final casualty figures from the blaze, which suggested that the death toll might rise further.

There was no immediate official word on the cause of the blaze, but initial reports by the Kurdish television news channel Rudaw suggested that fireworks at the venue may have started it.

Civil defense officials quoted by the Iraqi News Agency described the wedding hall’s exterior as being decorated with highly flammable cladding that is illegal in the country.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the authorities had allowed the cladding to be used in the hall, but corruption and mismanagement remain endemic in Iraq two decades after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

While some types of cladding can be made with fire-resistant material, experts say the kinds that caught fire at the wedding hall, and have caught fire elsewhere, weren’t designed to meet strict safety standards, and have often been put into buildings without any breaks that would slow or halt a possible blaze. Such cladding was a factor in the 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in London, which killed 72 people, and in multiple high-rise fires in the United Arab Emirates.

The fire in Iraq was the latest disaster to strike the country’s shrinking Christian minority, which over the past two decades has been violently targeted by extremists, first from Al Qaeda and later from the Islamic State militant group. Although the Nineveh plains, the historic homeland of Iraqi Christians, were wrested back from the Islamic State six years ago, some towns there are still mostly rubble and lack basic services. Many Christians have left for Europe, Australia or the United States.

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