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Hotel fire kills 30 in Iraq's Kurdish north

By Sherko Raouf

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - A fire at a hotel in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya, possibly triggered by a gas leak or electric fault, killed 30 people, including many foreigners, and injured 22, police said Friday.

A security official said the fire in Iraq's relatively stable and violence-free Kurdish region, where medium-sized international oil companies are starting to work, was not a terrorist act and the cause was under investigation.

The fire broke out late Thursday in the Soma hotel on a commercial street in the city center and raged out of control for several hours. At least three of the victims died jumping from the third floor to escape the flames, an official said.

Rosheen Younis, 25, was a guest at the hotel but was away at the time of the fire because she had gone out to dinner.

"Only fate saved us from inevitable death," she said. "When we returned at midnight we saw fire engines, ambulances, security forces and two children's bodies burned beyond recognition. I can't forget these images."

Fifteen of the 30 victims were Iraqis and two were from Bangladesh while others came from Canada, Australia, Ecuador, Lebanon, South Africa, Britain, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, Dr. Reqot Hama-Rasheed, head of the health department, told Reuters Television.

Police officials said earlier that an American, a Japanese, a Chinese and a Pole were also among the dead. One source said some of the victims worked for Asiacell, an Iraqi mobile phone operator in which Qatar Telecommunications Co has a stake.

Terraseis, a Dubai-based company that conducts geophysical surveys of oilfields, said some of its workers were staying at the hotel.

Iraq's minority Kurds were oppressed by Arab dictator Saddam Hussein but have enjoyed virtual independence under Western protection since the 1991 end of the first Gulf War.

As the rest of Iraq descended into sectarian warfare and a raging insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraqi Kurdistan's relative stability has drawn foreign investors, principally from Turkey and the Middle East.

"This is not a terrorist act," Qader Hama-Jan, the head of local security operations, said of the fire.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Khalid al-Ansary in Baghdad, Reuters Television; Writing by Jim Loney; Editing by Michael Christie and Jon Hemming)

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