Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed following a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad. The victims were Shi’ite pilgrims taking part in a religious procession honouring a revered martyr.
It is reported they panicked when a rumour spread that a suicide bomber was among them. An interior ministry spokesman said 640 people had been killed. He also said most of the victims were women and children.
Witnesses said that in the rush to flee the bridge a railing collapsed and people plunged into the river Tigris, 30m below.
Earlier in the day seven Shi’ites were killed and many others wounded when mortar bombs were fired at a mosque where the same religious occasion was being marked.
That possibly fuelled a mood of extreme nervousness among the crowd.
A major rescue operation is continuing at the scene. Hospitals in the area are reported to have been overwhelmed by casualties.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has declared three days of national mourning .