Baghdad — A fierce blaze at a hotel without fire escapes sent some desperate guests plunging to their deaths in a northern Iraqi oil boomtown, killing 28 people.
Half of those killed were foreigners, a reflection of the thousands of migrants who have flooded the Kurdish region in northern Iraq in recent years in search of economic opportunities. Kurdistan, which has been spared the brunt of violence in Iraq, has prospered even as the rest of the country remains mired in sectarian bloodshed and political woes that have slowed investment.
The fire began late Thursday night in the city of Sulaimaniyah and lasted well into Friday morning as firefighters battled the deadly blaze in the five-story Soma Hotel for nearly five hours.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene in which smoke filled the hallways and billowed out of the windows, forcing some hotel guests to jump from the upper floors in a desperate attempt to avoid the flames.
One man who was visiting friends at the hotel, Mariwan Asaad, described seeing flames and smoke filling the corridors on the third floor, forcing him to stumble blindly in search of a way out. Through the open doorway of one room he saw a man lying on the floor, dead from smoke inhalation.
“I entered the room and threw myself from the window. I broke my legs. The pain was so great that I lost consciousness. I found myself in the hospital,” he said, speaking just before going into the operating room for surgery.
Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation, and the lack of fire escapes contributed to the high death toll, said the head of the city’s fire department, Brig. Yadgar Mohammed Mustafa.
Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Saleh said 28 people died and 22 were injured, in a statement released by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Fourteen of the dead were foreigners, the statement said.
He said the government was working with embassies to notify the next of kin. The prime minister said he had ordered a review of all fire safety measures in public buildings in the city and the region.
The dead included people from Cambodia, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, South Africa, Britain, Lebanon, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and one person who was believed to be a foreigner but did not have identification, the Kurdish government said.
The chief of police, Brig. Gen. Najim-al-Din Qadir, said the blaze was sparked by an electrical short.