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The Media Line: Tragic Blaze in Unlicensed Iraqi Wedding Venue Claims at Least 120 Lives

Tragic Blaze in Unlicensed Iraqi Wedding Venue Claims at Least 120 Lives

A devastating fire broke out during a wedding ceremony in northern Iraq, raising questions about the lack of safety measures and oversight in event halls.

By Hudhaifa Ebrahim/The Media Line

Revan and Hanin’s joy as newlyweds lasted only moments before their wedding turned tragic.

A fire ravaged their wedding hall in Qaraqosh, also known as Bakhdida or al-Hamdaniya, a town in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province, leaving at least 120 dead and over 350 injured, say sources.

The wedding venue, Al-Haitham Hall, was unlicensed. Despite this, the hall operated, with some speculating that this was allowed because owners Samir Suleiman Nabu and his son Rawan are leaders in the Babylon Brigades of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces.

Final tallies for the casualties are still pending, as government agencies report conflicting numbers. Civil Defense reported 113 deaths and over 200 injuries, while the Health Ministry stated it received 120 bodies and at least 350 injured people.

Preliminary information from Civil Defense and wedding videos circulating on social media suggest that candles and fireworks ignited a ceiling fire, which led to its rapid collapse.

Wedding footage shows the couple slow-dancing to audience applause. During a traditional Iraqi gobi dance capped by fireworks, the hall’s main frame suddenly collapsed.

Attendee Nirvan, who managed to escape due to being near an exit, told The Media Line, “The fire broke out at about 10:30 pm on Tuesday. It was sudden, and rapidly consumed the ceiling almost completely.”

“My wife got injured during the ensuing stampede. Civil Defense arrived over half an hour late and couldn’t handle all the wounded,” Nirvan added.

“Over a thousand people attended the event in Qaraqosh, a small village with a Christian majority where events usually draw large crowds,” said Nirvan.

“We couldn’t locate the bride’s mother for hours. When we did, her body was unrecognizable due to debris that had fallen and melted onto her,” he added.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani announced a comprehensive investigation into the incident. He also called for three days of national mourning and directed resources for treating the injured.

Brig. Gen. Jawdat Abdul Rahman, media director for Iraqi Civil Defense, told local media, “The fire broke out before midnight in a hall mainly constructed from flammable sandwich panels. The fire spread quickly due to these flammable materials.”

“The hall owner’s poor safety measures and violations of Civil Defense Law No. 44 contributed to the swift spread of the fire and the high number of casualties,” Rahman added.

Rahman noted, “The building was ill-equipped for the 1,000 attendees, and the use of fireworks compounded the problem. How the owner allowed indoor fireworks, the initial cause of the fire, needs to be investigated by forensic experts.”

Known as “sandwich panels” in Iraq, imitation Ecobond plastic panels consist of highly flammable materials. Their low cost and ease of installation have made them popular in Iraq.

Iraqi police sources report that the hall owners are fugitives; authorities have issued arrest warrants and are actively searching for them.

Maj. Ahmed Al-Hamdani of the Iraqi Federal Police told The Media Line, “I arrived to find the fire already raging. We were responsible for retrieving bodies and assisting survivors, and we transported the injured in both military and civilian vehicles.”

“Previous violations had been cited against the hall, yet no safety measures were put in place,” Al-Hamdani added. “The hall lacked even basic safety equipment like fire alarms and extinguishers and should have been closed,” Al-Hamdani stressed.

“The fire nearly destroyed the hall, and more victims may be discovered as we remove the debris,” Al-Hamdani noted.

President Abdul Latif Jamal Rashid, writing on the X platform, formerly called Twitter, stressed the urgency of investigating the fire. “What happened to our children in the Hamdaniya district is a painful tragedy and an accident that has crushed our hearts and the hearts of all Iraqis. The circumstances of the accident must be known and all measures must be taken … to prevent a recurrence elsewhere.”

Many Iraqis are expressing anger toward authorities, accusing them of negligence because of weak civil defense procedures and the lack of rescue equipment, in addition to the slow response, which led to an increased number of victims.

Social media posts claim that the negligence began when authorities allowed the hall to operate without proper safety features, in addition to allowing construction using the highly flammable “sandwich panel” boards—and not stopping it despite advance warnings.

Iraqi journalist Anwar Al-Matyouti told The Media Line, “Samir Suleiman owns a range of businesses, such as event halls, a park, and eateries, none of which meet safety standards.” Al-Matyouti suspects that Suleiman’s influence and militia affiliation prevent him from being held accountable, even when safety violations are identified in his projects.

Mustafa Al-Khattab, an engineer with Iraq’s Construction and Housing Ministry, told The Media Line, “We had earlier warned against using ‘sandwich panels’ in construction, but our warnings went unheeded.”

Al-Khattab further explained, “While original Ecobond panels are composed of less-flammable materials like actual aluminum, the imitation panels imported into Iraq fall short of those standards.”


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