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People inspect the damage at the site where a fire broke out at Al Hussain coronavirus hospital, in Nassiriya, Iraq, July 13, 2021 Image Credit: Reuters

The death of 92 people in Tuesday’s hospital fire in the south of Iraq is another tragic reminder of the intolerable level of mismanagement, corruption and apathy in the country’s bureaucracy. Even a bigger tragedy would be if the Al Hussein Hospital’s catastrophe is forgotten — just as the similar April fire in a Baghdad hospital was swept under the corruption rug. The tragedy must lead to a total reform of the Iraq’s state system.

The fire, believed to be caused by an electric failure that led to an oxygen tank explosion on a coronavirus treatment ward, is being investigated, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi said as he ordered the arrest of the hospital’s administrators. He did the same after the fire that destroyed Ibn Al Khatib Hospital in Baghdad three months ago killing at least 72 people. So far, the probe has yielded nothing.

Iraqis say they don’t need more of these investigations committees to reveal the real cause of these recurring tragedies. They know the real culprit and demand accountability — it is the system that allow sectarian and tribal loyalties to rule over the state structure including the health system.

Their feelings are echoed by President Barham Saleh, who went on Twitter to warn of more disasters if the real malady in Iraq is not cured. “The catastrophe of Al Hussein Hospital, and before that at the Ibn Al Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, are the product of persistent corruption and mismanagement that undervalued the lives of Iraqis and prevented reforms. A strict review of the performance of institutions and the protection of citizens is necessary,” he wrote.

Multiple parliamentary committees have for years called for an investigation into the corruption in the health ministry, as well as in other ministries, since 2003, when the US invasion overthrew the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein. To date, none of these vital entities have been seriously investigated costing the country not only billions of dollars but more importantly thousands of precious lives.

Al Kadhimi, who came to power last year with a pledge to fight corruption and lawlessness, also said the disastrous fire was the result of the incompetence of corrupt officials, stressing the need for “a comprehensive administrative reform process in the Health Ministry.”

The Prime Minister surely realises that reforms must lead to strict accountability, especially in a sector that is vital to people’s lives such as the health ministry. For years, corrupt officials got away with murder, literally. It is time the authority of the state and its laws are enforced. That is what the bereaved Iraqis called for as they buried their loved ones.