At least 31 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in a stampede in Iraq's Shiite city of Karbala. Panic broke out when a walkway reportedly collapsed during the ritual commemorations.
The Iraqi Health Ministry on Tuesday said at least 31 people had died following a stampede in Iraq's Shiite holy city of Karbala, about 80 kilometers south of the capital, Baghdad.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims are in the city for the Ashoura procession to mark the martyrdom of revered Imam Hussein.
What we know so far
Denial of collapse
A shrine official, Afdhal al-Shami, denied that there was a collapse or any cracks in the walkway. "It was a stampede that led to this incident," he told The Associated Press.
Mohammed Shenin Jebir, a pilgrim who was present at the stampede, said everything happened too fast. "Visitors suddenly fell on the ground and there was a strong stampede, there were many pilgrims who all fell on top of each other." The pilgrim was treated at Karbala's Hussein Medical Centre for cuts and bruises.
President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi gave their condolences and said they were following investigations into the incident.
US Ambassador Matthew H.Tueller also offered his condolences on behalf of the US Embassy in Baghdad. "We lament this tragic loss of life and wish those injured a swift and full recovery."
What is Ashoura? It is one of the most sacred holy days for Shiite Muslims around the world. It commemorates the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein in 680 A.D. by the army of the Umayyad caliphate. Shiites participate in prayers, rallies and the ritual of self-flagellation.
Extremist attacks: The death of Hussein led to the centuries' old schism between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shiites as the rightful heirs to the prophet. In recent years, Sunni militants have attacked Ashoura processions. However, Tuesday's rituals were peaceful until the walkway collapsed.
mvb/cw,rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)