At least 640 Shiites have been killed in a stampede in Baghdad that followed a terrorist attack on a Shiite mosque on Friday, Bloomberg News reports.[1]  --  AP's Qassim Abdul-Zahra noted that it was " the single biggest confirmed loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion."[2]  --  Most of the dead were women and children.  --  "The stampede occurred as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims walked to a Baghdad shrine in an annual religious commemoration that shut down much of Baghdad," the Washington Post reported.[3]  --  Later reports put the total number of dead at almost 900, with 400 injured.[4]  --  Many of the victims were among Baghdad's poorest residents....


By Caroline Alexander

Bloomberg News
August 31, 2005

At least 640 Shiite Muslim pilgrims were killed in a stampede on a bridge spanning the river Tigris in Baghdad today after a nearby mosque was attacked by insurgents, Iraqi National Assembly Adviser George Sada said.

"When people heard that the mosque had been attacked, they panicked and rushed toward the bridge to get out of the area," Sada said in a telephone interview from the capital. "There were so many people on the bridge that many fell over its sides and drowned in the Tigris, others were crushed."

After the accident, thousands of people rushed to the banks of the river to look for survivors, the Associated Press reported. Sada said he didn't know how many people had been wounded.

The stampede was triggered by an attack on the Khadimiya mosque, about a mile from the bridge where the pilgrims where headed, according to Sada. At least three people died and 33 others were wounded when insurgents fired shells and mortar rounds on the shrine, Interior Ministry spokesman Adnan Abdel Rahman said in a telephone interview from the city.

The events unfolded just four days after Kurds and Shiite Muslims, who hold power in the government, endorsed a new constitution over objections raised by Sunni Muslim political and religious leaders. Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari has declared a three day period of mourning, Sada said.

American helicopters fired on the militants who attacked the mosque and detained more than a dozen suspects, the military said in an e-mailed statement. Several mortar "impacts" were reported near the mosque and in surrounding areas, the military said.


Sada said that about one million Shiites have gathered in the northern Kazimiyah district today to mark the death of Mousa al-Khadim, the seventh Imam since the death of the Prophet Mohammed. Video aired by al-Jazeera television showed ambulances struggling to drive through narrow streets packed with pilgrims.

"This is a most shocking and terrible tragedy, initiated by terrorism, and its scale almost defies imagination," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in an e-mailed statement. The U.K "urges all Iraqis to remain committed to the political process and its aim of establishing democracy and stability in their country," he said.

Al-Jaafari's administration has said that supporters of Saddam Hussein, who lost their status when the Sunni-dominated regime fell, together with al-Qaeda-linked operatives are trying to ignite a civil war.

The last major attack on a Shiite mosque was in Feb. 18 when 17 people were killed in suicide bombing on a mosque in the southern Baghdad district of Dura as the Shiite community started a two-day mourning period culminating in the festival known as Ashura, according to AFP.

To contact the reporters on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Breaking News


By Qassim Abdul-Zahra

Associated Press
August 31, 2005,1280,-5245447,00.html

BAGHDAD -- At least 648 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge Wednesday when panic engulfed a Shiite religious procession amid rumors that a suicide bomber was about to attack, officials said. It was the single biggest confirmed loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Scores jumped or were pushed to their deaths into the Tigris River, while others were crushed in the crowd. Most of the dead were women and children, Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said.

Tensions already had been running high in the procession in Baghdad's heavily Shiite Kazimiyah district because of a mortar attack two hours earlier against the shrine where the marchers were heading. The shrine was about a mile from the bridge.

Abdul-Rahman said 648 were killed and 322 injured, with survivors rushed in ambulances and private cars to several hospitals, where officials scrambled to compile accurate casualty figures.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, declared a three-day mourning period.

Thousands of people rushed to both banks of the river to search for survivors, and bare-chested men jumped in to try to recover bodies.

Scores of bodies covered with white sheets lay on the sidewalk outside one hospital because the morgue was jammed. Many of them were women in black gowns, as well as children and old men.

Sobbing relatives wandered amid the bodies, lifting the sheets to try to identify their kin. When they found them, they would shriek in grief, pound their chests or collapse to the ground, sobbing.

Hundreds of thousands of Shiites had been marching across the bridge, which links a Sunni and Shiite neighborhood, heading for the tomb of Imam Mousa al-Kadhim, a 9th century Shiite saint.

Television reports said about 1 million pilgrims from Baghdad and outlying provinces had gathered near the shrine in the capital's Kazimiyah district for the annual commemoration of the saint's death. The shrine is about a mile from the bridge.

"We were on the bridge. It was so crowded. Thousands of people were surrounding me," said survivor Fadhel Ali, 28, barefoot and soaking wet. "We heard that a suicide attacker was among the crowd. Everybody was yelling, so I jumped from the bridge into the river, swam and reached the bank. I saw women, children and old men falling after me into the water."

Health Minister Abdul-Mutalib Mohammed told state-run Iraqiya television that there were "huge crowds on the bridge and the disaster happened when someone shouted that there is a suicide bomber on the bridge."

"This led to a state of panic among the pilgrims and they started to push each other and there was many cases of suffocation," he said.

Shiite processions, which can draw huge crowds, are often targeted by Sunni extremists seeking to trigger sectarian war, so worshippers are on guard for trouble.

First reports suggested that the bridge's railing collapsed, but TV video showed the green, waist-high railing undamaged.

Mortar shells had exploded in the shrine compound about two hours earlier, killing at least seven people. U.S. Apache helicopters fired at the attackers.

Shiite religious festivals have often been targeted for attack by Sunni extremists seeking to trigger civil war among the rival communities.

In March 2004 suicide attackers struck worshippers at the Imam Kadhim shrine and a holy site in Karbala, killing at least 181 overall.

The head of the country's major Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, told Al-Jazeera television that Wednesday's disaster was "another catastrophe and something else that could be added to the list of ongoing Iraqi tragedies."

"On this occasion we want to express our condolences to all the Iraqis and the parents of the martyrs, who fell today in Kazimiyah and all over Iraq," said the cleric, Haith al-Dhari.

Elsewhere, a U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb in the city of Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said.

Eyewitnesses said the town of Qaim, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, was quiet and virtually deserted Wednesday after a day of heavy fighting between the pro-government Bumahl tribe and the pro-insurgent Karabilah tribe. Iraqi officials said 45 people had died in the clashes, during which hundreds of residents fled their homes and took refuge in the surrounding countryside.

The border region is considered a prime infiltration route for smugglers and foreign militants trying to reach central and western Iraq.

This week's violence came amid new twists about Iraq's draft constitution. On Tuesday, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad raised the possibility of further changes to the draft charter finalized by the dominant Kurdish and Shiite Arab bloc but vehemently opposed by Arab Sunnis who form the core of the armed insurgency.

Sunnis had demanded revisions in the constitution, and Khalilzad's move indicated the Bush administration has not given up its campaign to obtain some sort of Sunni endorsement for the national charter.

Khalilzad said he believed "a final, final draft has not yet been, or the edits have not been, presented yet" -- a strong hint to Shiites and Kurds that Washington wants another bid to accommodate the Sunnis before the Oct. 15 referendum.

Shiite leaders had no comment on the ambassador's remarks. As constitution wrangling drew to a close last week, Shiite officials complained privately that the Sunnis were stonewalling and that further negotiations were pointless.

Khaled al-Attiyah, a Shiite member of the constitution drafting committee, insisted Tuesday that "no changes are allowed" to the draft "except for minor edits for the language."

This indicated that the Shiites and Kurds would be unlikely to compromise on their core demand for Iraq to be turned into a loose federation. Sunnis fear this would eventually lead to the breakup of the nation which has been ruled as a centralized entity since it was established by British occupiers in the 1920s.

Sunni Arabs form an estimated 20 percent of the population. They could still scuttle the charter because of a rule that states that if two-thirds of the voters in any three provinces reject the draft, it would be defeated.

Even if the Sunnis lose the referendum, a bitter political battle at a time when the Sunni-led insurgency shows no sign of abating could plunge the country into a full-scale sectarian conflict.

The Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq condemned attacks by foreign fighters against "our beloved people" and urged the government to "stop criminals and terrorists from crossing into Iraq."



Middle East


By Ellen Knickmeyer, Naseer Nouri, and Bassam Sebti

Washington News
August 31, 2005

BAGHDAD -- Rumors of a suicide bomber in the midst of a crowd of Shiite Muslim pilgrims set off a stampede Wednesday on a Tigris River bridge, killing hundreds as panicked worshipers trampled others or hurled themselves off the bridge, according to witnesses and officials.

Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said 637 people died and another 183 were injured, though other estimates ranged widely.

The stampede occurred as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims walked to a Baghdad shrine in an annual religious commemoration that shut down much of Baghdad.

"The people when they were at the bridge, more than one person started yelling, and saying 'the bridge will fall down, the bridge will explode'," said Khalid Fadl, a nearby resident. "So the people started running in panic, pushing each other, trying to run away. Some of the people fell down, and the people stepped on them," Fadl said.

"The others threw themselves off the bridge, into the river."

Crowds tore down metal sidings erected along the sides of the bridge in order to leap into the river, witnesses said. Worshipers pulled countless bodies from the river into late afternoon.

Arabic TV stations showed men laying out the waterlogged bodies in the hallways of the Khadamiya district hospital. Horrified crowds watching on the banks dove into the Tigris to pull corpses to shore. Water seeped from the black trousers and shirts and twisted abayas of the lifeless pilgrims.

Security officials said the confusion started at a checkpoint on to the east side of the bridge, where pilgrims were piled up waiting to be searched one by one for weapons. Streams of pilgrims who had already visited the shrine and were returning home crowded in from the opposite direction, leaving the 30-yard-high bridge thickly packed with pilgrims. The bridge, and the pilgrimage route, took Shiites through two heavily Sunni neighborhoods, and fears were already high from the morning attacks.

"People started pushing each other, some of them started to smother, and some of them started to fall down," said Sattar Jabar, a 22-year-old militia of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia that was helping provide security, and who helped pull out dead and injured after jumping himself. "That's why many people jumped out from the bridge. Whoever was able to swim and knew how to swim, survived. The people who didn't know died."

Some of the jumpers fell into the green Tigris. Others on the end of the bridge slammed into the shore, their bodies hitting sidewalks and the swings and see-saws of a children's park by the river.

"I saw an old woman who was completely panicked and crying, threw herself from the bridge," said Fadhil, the witness. "I saw another man falling on the bricks of the shore and died immediately. I saw seven people were brought dead near the end of the bridge, smothered."

"Other people were running and shouting 'Allahu Akbar, Allah Akbar,'" (God is great), Fadhil said.

Two hours earlier, several mortar and rocket rounds hit the area around the shrine, killing seven people and injuring at least 40.

A U.S. military statement said Apache helicopters fired on the attackers after observing the rocket launches.


By Edmund Sanders and Ashraf Khalil

Los Angeles Times
September 1, 2005

Original source: Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD -- The walls of Medical City hospital are papered in photos of the dead.

It could be New York City after Sept. 11 or Sri Lanka after last year's tsunami. But here the pictures are not of the missing. They are of the found.

Scores of hastily-snapped autopsy photos of unidentified victims line the hospital's lobby, hallways and outside walls. Relatives scan the gruesome collage for loved-ones. Swollen, bloodied faces. Broken teeth. Eyes frozen open. Many are children and elderly. Beneath each chin is a slip of paper with a number, used to locate the body.

Under the picture of one small boy with a peaceful smile is a handwritten note that his unclaimed body can be found in a nearby refrigeration truck.

"This is my daughter," cried Abdul Hussein Khadim, clutching his 12-year-old girl's photograph, which he peeled from the hospital wall. "Number 18. Where is she? Does anyone know?"

A day after a deadly stampede killed nearly 900 Shiite Muslim pilgrims during a Baghdad religious procession, Iraqis struggled today to cope with the loss.

Even for a society hardened by daily bloodshed and decades of oppression, the scale of Wednesday's death toll was proving to be overwhelming, both emotionally and logistically.

Mosques ran short of wooden coffins. Gravediggers in the southern city of Najaf, where many Shiites prefer to bury their dead, worked without break. Suppliers of traditional mourning tents were inundated in the Shiite slum of Sadr City in the capital, where many of the victims lived.

Every main street in Sadr City was dotted with tunnel-shaped funeral tents, where mourners gathered to pray, listen to recordings of Koranic verses and sip traditional unsweetened Arabic coffee. Grieving relatives scoured the city for funeral supplies.

"We had to get a [tent cloth] from Baqubah" north of Baghdad, said Nouri Mohammed Mayahi, an unemployed iron worker whose neighbor's son died on the bridge. "We're still waiting for it to arrive."

The Ministry of Health has said the toll could rise to 1,000 or more. It was the highest death toll in any single incident in Iraq since well before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and was more than four times higher than that of the largest insurgent suicide bombing.

At least 400 Iraqis were injured in the chaos as they tried to cross a four-lane, quarter-mile bridge that spans the Tigris River. The victims were among the million Shiites from Iraq, Iran and elsewhere who had crammed into Baghdad's Kadhimiya suburb to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Musa al Kadhim, an 8th century Shiite saint, at his shrine.

Many of the victims were from Sadr City, the eastern Baghdad neighborhood where 2 million mostly poor Shiite Arabs live. Most of them were women, children and the elderly.

The exact cause of the melee remained unclear. Several mortar rounds, apparently fired by insurgents, had fallen on the crowds earlier in the day, killing at least six and making pilgrims and the many Iraqi soldiers and police officers on the scene skittish.

Pilgrimages at shrines in Baghdad and the southern cities of Najaf and Karbala have been marred by suicide bombings — at least 181 people were killed in coordinated blasts at Shiite shrines in Karbala and Baghdad in March 2004, the deadliest such incident.

Some witnesses had said pilgrims panicked after a rumor spread that a suicide bomber was among them. The crowd was boxed in between high metal fences along the concrete-and-steel-girder bridge and unable to move backward of forward because of checkpoints in front and oncoming pilgrims behind.

Others said additional mortar rounds had been fired at the pilgrims, causing the panic.

Some victims, desperate to avoid being trampled, jumped into the river's muddy currents and drowned, witnesses and officials said. Most suffocated or were trampled to death as they tried to escape the two-hour morning melee.

After the chaos subsided, survivors gasped as they walked past mounds of colorful plastic slippers that were lying on the bridge along with tangled black abayas and purses.

Weeping women sorted through the piles, looking for the slippers of loved ones while scavengers searched the piles for valuables.