Iraq is reeling after a tragedy that has left up to a thousand people dead, according to officials. The victims were Shi’ites who had thronged to Baghdad to take part in a religious ceremony. On a bridge over the Tigris, panic broke out, reportedly after a rumour spread that a suicide bomber was among the crowd. In the ensuing stampede a railing collapsed. Hundreds tumbled into the river, others were crushed.
Officials say most of the victims were women and children. Authorities say around 700 are known to have died but expect the figure to rise significantly. Earlier the pilgrims had come under mortar attack at a mosque. Seven were killed and many others wounded. It is not clear how the rumour of the suicide bomber spread. The Interior minister said whoever put it about was a terrorist. But separately the defence minister said the stampede was not related to the sectarian tensions gripping the country.
Those have been caused by the opposing views Shi’ites and Sunnis have taken on Iraq’s constitution. Whether events in Baghdad will heighten hostilities remains to be seen. Iraq’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has declared three days of national mourning .