The Archbishop of Erbil, Most Rev Bashar Warda, has described his community’s pain after a fire at a wedding celebration killed more than a hundred people.
The blaze broke out at Al Haitham Hall, on the outskirts of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plains on Tuesday evening, where the wedding reception of a Syriac Catholic couple was being held.
More than 150 people were injured. While the cause of the blaze has not yet been officially confirmed, preliminary reports indicate that the ceiling caught alight after indoor fireworks were let off. Parts of the ceiling then fell with the fire spreading rapidly and trapping many of the 1,000 guests.
Archbishop Bashar Warda issued a statement – a copy of which was sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – which said: “Words cannot adequately describe the pain of those bringing their loved ones to their final resting places in their ancient land.
“What was to be a time of joy has now turned into a whole community in mourning and deep shock. Patriarchs, bishops, and priests from all confessions gathered today in Qaraqosh to bury those who had perished.”
According to Archbishop Bashar, the tragedy has brought the people of Iraq together across confessional lines.
He continued: “The Sunnis have cancelled their celebrations of the birth of their prophet Mohammed, and we have statements of condolences and support from the Shi‘a community as well.
“The Governments of Iraq and Kurdistan also announced three days of mourning.
“I ask for your prayers for those souls we have lost and the severely injured. I ask you to pray for the Syriac community and their families within Iraq and the diaspora.”
Nineveh’s Deputy Governor Hassan Al Allaq told Reuters that 113 people have been confirmed dead so far. It is believed the bride and groom survived the fire. However, some people are still unaccounted for, with bodies being hard to identify because of the severity of the burns. Dozens are still receiving treatment in hospital for major burns and toxic-fume inhalation.
Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains have endured social and economic hardships following the Daesh (ISIS) invasion of the region in August 2014.