(31 August 2005)
Baghdad stampede many Shia pilgrims dead
Iraqi officials say that more than 600 Shia pilgrims have been killed in a stampede in northern Baghdad. The incident happened on a bridge over the Tigris River as over a million Shia pilgrims marched to the Kadhimiya mosque as part of an annual religious festival.
It was sparked by rumours of suicide bombers in a crowd. In the ensuing panic many pilgrims were crushed and some fell into the river. It was clearly intended to foment sectarian tensions as the Iraqis are currently preparing to vote on the proposed constitution for their country, with Shia and Sunnis sharply divided on its contents.
Today is the last day for the Iraqis to register to vote in October's referendum on the new constitution.
Television pictures showed large crowds of Shia pilgrims gathering at the mosque to mark the martyrdom of the eighth-century religious figure Imam Musa al-Kadhim.
As the rumour of suicide bombers among the pilgrims spread, it caused panic among the pilgrims and the iron railings on Aima Bridge, gave way in the crush, and hundreds of pilgrims fell into the water of River Tigris.
Health officials said more than 640 deaths have been accounted for and there were more than 230 injured, but the number of fatalities could rise.
"We have lost count, we have hundreds and hundreds of dead and injured," a Health Ministry official told the Reuters news agency.
"We can't tell how many are dead. Many bodies are still in the river," the official added.
The government has declared three days of mourning, state-owned television reported, quoting a statement by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.