By Ned Parker and Raheem Salman
BAGHDAD _ A fire swept through a hotel in northern Iraq filled with foreigners, killing at least 28 people as some desperate guests jumped from windows in attempts to escape the flames, officials and witnesses said Friday.
At least half of the dead were foreigners, some of whom worked in Iraqi Kurdistan’s oil industry and mobile phone sector. The blaze at the five-story Soma Hotel in the city of Sulaimaniyah was likely caused by faulty electrical wiring, authorities said.
A lack of fire escapes contributed to the death toll, as most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, local officials said.
Kurdistan’s regional government immediately formed a committee to investigate the safety standards at the hotel and the performance of the firefighters who arrived to douse the blaze. The committee would ask “why there were no safety procedures in this hotel,” the regional government’s prime minister Barham Saleh told reporters. He warned if there was any negligence those responsible would be punished.
An official from the Asia Cell phone company, Farouq Mulla Mustafa, criticized the conditions at the hotel, saying he was told safety precautions were lacking.
“According to people who survived there were no emergency ladders in the building and the door leading to the rooftop was locked,” he said.
Officials at the hotel could not be reached for comment.
Survivors described a chaotic scene of smoke and flames that quickly overwhelmed the hotel Thursday night.
“I was looking for my friends who were in the hotel. When I reached the third floor the fire happened,” said British national Merwan Assad, who broke a leg diving from a window.
Some hotel guests said they were surprised that smoke entered their rooms. One man said he saw two people die after they jumped from a hotel window.
“I warned my family that there is a fire,” one guest told the Al-Hurra satellite news channel. “We left the room to the elevator, we left everything in the room. … We were lucky the elevator worked.”
Officials said among the dead were one Cambodian, two Bangladeshis, one Canadian, two Australians, one Ecuadorian, one South African, one Briton, one Lebanese and one Venezuelan. They worked for foreign oil companies, Asia Cell and other companies.
The country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region has wooed foreign investment. Its regional government has touted itself as the “other Iraq” due to its warm relations with the Americans and the absence of violence witnessed in Baghdad and other spots in the country.