Iraq's health minister resigns over Baghdad hospital fire

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's health minister resigned Tuesday over a week after a deadly blaze killed dozens of people in a Baghdad hospital for COVID-19 patients that officials said was caused by negligence.

Iraq's prime minister approved the resignation request submitted by Health Minister Hasan al-Tamimi, according to a statement from his office.

The resignation came shortly after the Cabinet voted on the recommendations of an investigative committee that probed the catastrophic fire at Ibn al-Khatib hospital. The fire, which broke out late April 24 and raged for hours, killed 82 people and wounded over 100, according to the Interior Ministry.

Cabinet members approved recommendations to take disciplinary action against the hospital's director and administrative assistant, relieving them of their positions. They also approved a recommendation to lift the suspensions of al-Tamimi and Baghdad's governor.

The Health Minister resigned despite the vote.

It was unclear what impact al-Tamimi's departure will have on the Health Ministry's pandemic response policies as Iraq grapples with a severe new wave of the coronavirus. Iraq recorded 6,100 new virus cases on Tuesday. Over 15,000 people have died among 108,000 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

Officials said the blaze was set off by exploding oxygen cylinders. Speculation has run rampant about what caused them to explode.

Doctors have warned of systemic mismanagement of the health care system , describing Iraqi hospitals as ticking time bombs because of lax safety rules, especially regarding oxygen cylinders. They say hospitals often lack smoke detectors and that visitors routinely smoke cigarettes around oxygen cylinders or bring in electric stoves to cook for patients.

The investigative committee did not shed light on the cause of the explosion.