The Iraqi Interior Ministry announced that 82 people died in a fire that swept through a hospital in Baghdad's southeast early Sunday.
The fire at the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which cares for Covid-19 patients, wounded 110 other people, according to Iraq's state news agency INA.
The ministry questioned whether the fire, which began at an intensive care unit, had a criminal motive.
"The investigation is still pending. Technical and criminal inquiries are underway to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the incident "Saad Maan, the head of the ministry's press office, told INA.
According to INA, some blamed the fire on an electrical short-circuit, while others said it was caused by defective oxygen systems.
According to an eyewitness, the fire gutted the hospital's ground floor, including a room where Covid-19 patients were on ventilators.
Local mosques urged people to rush to the hospital and help with the relief operations after the fire broke out, according to Sejad Abdel-Hadi.
"Dozens of young people stormed the departments affected by the blast," explained the Iraqi man over the phone. He said that tens of patients were saved and transported to other hospitals by private cars driven by volunteers.
He said, "There were burned corpses."
The country's health minister, Baghdad governor, and the head of the city health department were all suspended later Sunday, according to INA, and the government referred them to an investigation into the tragedy.
At an emergency meeting, the government also agreed to begin a new inquiry, which will be headed by Interior Minister Othman al-Ghaneimi.
The government gave itself five days to complete the investigation.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi had previously ordered the hospital owner, as well as security and maintenance officials, to be detained pending investigations. "To be honest, this incident jeopardizes Iraqi national security," he said.
Al-Kadhemi declared the victims of the fire to be "martyrs," a term that grants their families financial benefits.
"Carelessness has led to the deaths of martyrs today. Others will fall tomorrow if we do nothing "In a quote, he added.
Three days of national mourning have been declared in Iraq for the victims.
The US expressed its condolences and offered its support.
In a tweet, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, "We mourn the loss of life in the fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital in Baghdad."
"We've reached out to Iraqi officials and offered our assistance. First and foremost, our strategic alliance with Iraq is a partnership between our two peoples. At this tragic time, we are ready to help the Iraqi government and its citizens."
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN special envoy for Iraq, expressed her shock and called for better security measures to avoid such disasters. "Despite the pandemic and rising diseases, the UN continues to provide vital support to Iraq's health sector," she said.
Iraq now has over 1 million coronavirus cases, making it the Arab country with the most infections.