Iraq Ferry Disaster Triggers Political Fallout
An overcrowded ferry traveling along the Tigris River in Iraq capsized on March 21, killing more than 120 Iraqi citizens. The ferry was traveling to Um El-Rabe'ayn Island, a popular tourist destination outside of Mosul. Their deaths brought a week of protests against the local Iraqi government, with a number of changes already being made to try to tamp down on the corruption and negligence issues that allowed this to happen.
A number of factors played into the disaster that occurred that day. One of the most pressing issues is that the ferry itself was overcrowded, with over 200 people onboard, which is five times higher than should have been allowed. Secondly, due to the gates of the Mosul Dam having been recently opened, the waters of the Tigris River have risen significantly, which in turn increased the risks of water travel. When the ferry did eventually collapse, Mosul’s lack of proper emergency services hampered efforts to rescue those in the water, with nearby citizens jumping into the water to try to rescue those in need. Unfortunately, for both those on the ferry and those trying to rescue them, strong river currents washed many of these people away—dozens are missing and feared dead.
The tragedy has fanned popular anger against the Iraqi government. When Iraqi President Barham Salih and the Nineveh Provincial Governor, Nawfel Akoub, tried to visit the site of the disaster, protesters threw stones at their cars. Demonstrators claim the ferry incident is another instance of negligence by Akoub and his deputies.
In response to the disaster, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi recommended on March 23 that Parliament remove Akoub and two of his deputies. All three were fired by the next day, with Prime Minister Mahdi citing their “negligence and concrete failings” as the rationale. With Akoub out of office, Mahdi announced that a “crisis-cell government” would lead the city of Mosul for the time being, with that cell consisting of Nineveh’s chief of police Hamid al-Namis, Mosul University president Muzahim al-Khayat, and Nineveh Operations Command head Major General Najim Abed al-Jabouri. On March 27, an arrest warrant was issued for Akoub on charges of negligence, wasting public funds, and corruption. The latter charge comes with a travel ban that prevents him from leaving the country. Arrest warrants were also announced for three other individuals involved. Another sixteen have already been arrested in Mosul on similar charges of corruption and negligence.