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In Iraq, Packed Ferry Sinks In Tigris River

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Video of a ferry disaster in Mosul, Iraq, makes this clear - most of the close to 100 people who drowned were women and children. Here's NPR's Jane Arraf.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: In the security camera video, you can see the flat-bottom boat starting to lift just a few feet from the riverbank. Everyone scrambles to the side and then it flips completely over, plunging everyone into the water. None of the passengers were wearing life jackets.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Yelling in foreign language).

ARRAF: On the other side, horrified families in restaurants on the banks of the Tigris River watched as children and adults struggled in the water. Most of them couldn't swim. The fast current swept some of them miles downstream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Yelling in foreign language).

ARRAF: Men and boys who could swim jumped into the water from the shore and bridges to try to save people. Children, they shouted frantically.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Yelling in foreign language).

ARRAF: It was a national holiday - the Kurdish Spring festival Nowruz. The day is also commemorated in Iraq as Mother's Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Yelling in foreign language).

ARRAF: Iraq's prime minister announced an investigation.

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PRIME MINISTER ADIL ABDUL-MAHDI: (Through interpreter) The boat was overloaded with families, more than its capacity. And the current was very fast because of the high water levels.

ARRAF: Water levels were higher than usual because water was recently released from the Mosul dam. Mosul's mayor said the boat owner had not done needed repairs on the vessel. Mosul has been emerging from the battle against ISIS, which destroyed the oldest section of Iraq's second-biggest city and killed thousands of civilians. The city was liberated by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces two years ago, but reconstruction has been slow. Last week, bridges rebuilt after the battle collapsed in the rain.

ALI AL-BAROODI: This tragedy makes us live the war again. We're living with the war atmosphere. And believe me. This is not about the ferry. This is not about the bridges. It's not even about the war. It's about the people who make benefits of Mosul.

ARRAF: That's Ali Al-Baroodi, who teaches at the University of Mosul. He says people feel they've been taken advantage of. A civil defense official said the boat had a capacity of 50 but was carrying five times that number. The boat owner was arrested.

The morning after, an angry crowd gathered to protest corruption and government neglect. Video recorded by Baroodi showed protesters throwing stones at the governor's vehicle, demanding he resign as he sped away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Yelling in foreign language).

ARRAF: The prime minister declared three days of mourning across the country. Jane Arraf, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.