A massive blaze sparked by fireworks at a wedding celebration killed at least 114 people and injured over 150 more in northern Iraq on Tuesday night. The fast-moving fire ripped through a crowded banquet hall in the predominantly Christian town of Hamdaniya, near Mosul, leaving little more than charred ruins and heartbreak in its wake.

Celebration Turns to Tragedy

The wedding joyously brought together hundreds of guests, many of them members of Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority population. According to eyewitness accounts, the evening started auspiciously – music playing as friends and family gathered to recognize the union of the bride and groom.

Video footage shows the newly married couple standing stunned on the dance floor as sparks from the fireworks overhead quickly ignited the highly flammable cladding and decorations on the ceiling and walls. Within minutes, the venue was engulfed in flames.

“They were about to do a slow dance and then they lit up this thing for the dance which caught fire,” described one guest. The fire spread rapidly, causing parts of the building to collapse and trap victims inside.

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High Death Toll

At least 114 people lost their lives in the inferno, according to Iraq’s health department in Nineveh province. The death toll includes the bride and groom, who perished along with many of their wedding guests.

More than 150 attendees suffered injuries, many severe burns, with some transferred to nearby hospitals for emergency treatment. “All efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected by the unfortunate accident,” stated Health Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr.

Officials warned the casualty count could still rise in the coming days as more victims succumb to their wounds. Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has ordered an investigation and directed health and interior ministry officials to provide aid to survivors.

Illegal Materials Contributed to Tragedy

According to civil defense officials, the wedding hall had been decorated with highly flammable cladding and other materials that are illegal in Iraq.

“The fire led to the collapse of parts of the hall as a result of the use of highly flammable, low-cost building materials that collapse within minutes when the fire breaks out,” they stated.

The non-fire resistant exterior cladding provided fuel for the fast-moving inferno. Investigators will look into how the hazardous materials made it past inspectors. Iraq has struggled with endemic corruption inhibiting enforcement of safety regulations.

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Christians in Iraq Face Ongoing Persecution

This tragedy comes as Iraq’s Christian community faces increasing violence and discrimination. Christians numbered 1.5 million in 2003 but have dwindled to only 150,000 today after decades of persecution. Hardline Islamist extremist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS have targeted Christian villages, churches, and businesses with murders, kidnappings, bombings and other attacks.

Many Christians have fled the country over the years, with large populations settling in Europe, Australia, and North America. This fire is yet another blow to the remaining Christian minority in Iraq seeking to rebuild their lives and communities.

While the investigation continues, the country mourns the lives lost in this preventable calamity. The selfless actions of first responders and medical professionals have provided some comfort to the victims’ families. Iraqis hope measures will be taken to prevent such senseless tragedies in the future.

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