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Robert Fisk: In Iraq, a man-made disaster - Independent, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    In Iraq, a man-made disaster One thousand feared dead after Shia pilgrims are caught in stampede By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent, and agencies
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2005
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      In Iraq, a man-made disaster
      One thousand feared dead after Shia pilgrims are
      caught in stampede
      By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent, and
      agencies
      Published: 01 September 2005

      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article309465.ece

      Martyrdom has always been a foundation of the Shia
      Muslim faith. But yesterday's tragedy gave it new
      meaning: possibly as many as 1,000 men, women and
      children were killed when they fell from a bridge over
      the Tigris river in Baghdad, apparently fearful that a
      suicide bomber had been let loose among them.

      There was no bomber. But there was death on a massive
      scale as hundreds of Shia Muslims fell over the
      railings of the narrow bridge. Hundreds of children
      were among the dead.

      Bodies drifted for hours downriver from the Qadimiya
      district of Baghdad. Soldiers who fired their rifles
      into the air compounded the carnage.

      Several mortar rounds had earlier exploded on the
      road, leading many of the marchers - commemorating the
      death in 799 of Imam Moussa ibn Jaafar al-Qadim, one
      of Shiism's 12 principal saints - to believe they were
      under attack. At least a million Shia pilgrims were
      walking to the Qadimiya mosque when the crowd,
      trampled upon, crushed against barricades and hurled
      into the river, fell from the Aima bridge. Children
      could be seen drowning in the Tigris in what was the
      greatest loss of life in Iraq since the invasion of
      the country in 2003. Hundreds of sandals, foot
      packages and headdresses were heaped on the bridge
      after the deaths; hospitals were overwhelmed by the
      number of corpses brought to their mortuaries. At one
      point, Shia pilgrims could be seen hurling themselves
      from the bridge into the Tigris as they became crushed
      between panicking civilians.

      Others fell from the end of the bridge and landed on
      the shore, their bodies crashing down amid the swings
      of a riverside children's park. "I saw an old woman,
      who was completely panicked and crying, throw herself
      from the bridge," Khalid Fadhil, a goldsmith who
      witnessed the stampede, told a reporter from The
      Washington Post. "I saw another man falling on the
      bricks of the shore who died immediately. I saw seven
      people were brought dead near the end of the bridge,
      smothered. Other people were running and shouting
      'Allahu Akbar' [God is great]."

      "Whoever was able to swim and knew how to swim
      survived. The people who didn't know died," said
      Sattar Jabbar, 22, a fighter in the Shia Mehdi Army
      militia who was on security duty. He helped pull
      people out of the river after jumping in himself.

      The death toll was put at more than 965 dead and
      hundreds more injured.

      In March last year, 180 people died, many of them Shia
      pilgrims, when they were attacked by insurgents in
      Baghdad and in the holy city of Karbala. Fearing more
      attacks, the authorities blocked off roads across
      northern Baghdad on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands
      of Shia pilgrims converged on the capital. The
      country's Health Minister, Abdul-Mutalib Mohammed,
      told Iraqi 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 panic among the pilgrims," he said, "and
      they started pushing each other and there were many
      cases of suffocation."

      The security commander for the Qadimiya district, in
      north Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris,
      confirmed this analysis.

      But pilgrims became frightened after mortar shells
      landed on the crowds in the morning, killing at least
      six people. A rumour started that a suicide bomber was
      among the crowd. Pilgrimages to the Baghdad shrine of
      Imam Moussa Qadim, the eighth-century Shia saint, were
      banned by Saddam Hussein. The revival of such
      pilgrimages has attracted enormous crowds over the
      past two years and an estimated one million pilgrims
      were on the road yesterday. In the aftermath of the
      disaster, tens of thousands of pilgrims continued
      their mournful procession and Shia women were seen
      keening over dead bodies in the streets.

      The bridge where the disaster took place connects a
      Shia district with a part of Baghdad that supports the
      insurgency. The Sunni side has many former Hussein
      Baath party loyalists and Sunni fundamentalists. The
      disaster occurred just days after the new draft
      constitution was put before Iraq's parliament despite
      fierce objections by Sunni representatives. Prominent
      Sunnis want voters to reject the draft constitution
      when it is put to a referendum in October, and there
      have been angry protests against it among Sunnis
      across northern and central Iraq.

      In the aftermath, Sunnis from the east side of the
      Tigris told how they had tried to save pilgrims who
      fell on to the concrete by taking the injured to a
      Sunni mosque and university. Others helped out with
      boats and, at a turn in the river, the fast-flowing
      current dumped bodies on the shoreline. Hospitals on
      both side were soon filled with bodies. The full scale
      of the disaster was clear at Baghdad's Medical City
      hospital, where heartbroken relatives and corpses
      filled the hallways, spilled onto the parking lot and
      the lawn. Arab television stations also showed bodies
      of men, women and children laid out on hospital
      floors, water streaming from their women's abayas and
      the black trousers and shirts of Shia pilgrims.

      When hospitals could take no more victims, the bodies
      were laid side by side on the footpath and covered
      with white cloths and foil blankets. It was a scene of
      raw and pitiable emotion as women pulled back the
      covers in a desperate search for loved ones. Many
      survivors blamed the Shia security, rather than
      insurgents.Searches of men had caused bottlenecks to
      build up as pilgrims streamed toward the shrine. On
      the other side of the checkpoint another crowd built
      up as returning pilgrims tried to push their way home.

      Shia death toll

      * 31 August 2005: Worshippers stampede in Baghdad
      during commemoration of Shia saint's death, killing as
      many as 1,000 pilgrims.

      * 10 March: Suicide bomber blows himself up at a Shia
      mosque during a funeral in Mosul, killing 47 and
      wounding more than 100.

      * 28 February: Suicide car bomber targets mostly Shia
      police and National Guard recruits in Hillah, killing
      125 and wounding more than 140.

      * 18 February: Two suicide bombers attack two mosques,
      leaving 28 people dead, while an explosion near a Shia
      ceremony kills two others.

      * 19 December 2004: Car bombs tear through Najaf
      funeral procession and Karbala's main bus station,
      killing 60 people and wounding more than 120.

      * 26 August: A mortar barrage slams into a mosque near
      Najaf, killing 27 people and wounding 63.

      * 2 March: Co-ordinated blasts from suicide bombers,
      mortars and planted explosives strike Shia shrines in
      Karbala and Baghdad, killing 181 and wounding 573.

      * 29 August 2003: A car bomb explodes outside a mosque
      in Najaf, killing 85 people, including Shia leader
      Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

      Source: AP
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Baghdad Stampede Kills Hundreds
      Ammar Karim, Agence France Presse

      http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4§ion=0&article=69360&d=1&m=9&y=2005

      BAGHDAD, 1 September 2005 — At least 843 Iraqis were
      crushed to death or drowned yesterday in a stampede on
      a Baghdad bridge as vast crowds of Shiite pilgrims
      were sent into panic by rumors of suicide bombers in
      their midst.

      In Iraq’s deadliest day since the US-led war of March
      2003, hundreds of women, children and elderly people
      were trampled underfoot or jumped to their deaths from
      the bridge after a deadly mortar strike on a Shiite
      shrine.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      A cry of suicide bomber, and 700 perish in Iraq
      stampede

      Rory Carroll in Baghdad
      Thursday September 1, 2005
      The Guardian

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1560331,00.html

      Iraq was shrouded in mourning last night after more
      than 700 Shia pilgrims died in a stampede across a
      Baghdad bridge, in the deadliest incident since the
      March 2003 invasion.

      Panic broke out when hundreds of thousands of Shia
      Muslims converged from alleys on to the al-Aima
      bridge, crushing hundreds and forcing hundreds more
      into the Tigris river, where they drowned.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      841 die on bridge over Tigris

      http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=77330
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      A cry of suicide bomber, and 700 perish in Iraq
      stampede

      Rory Carroll in Baghdad
      Thursday September 1, 2005
      The Guardian

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1560359,00.html

      Iraq was shrouded in mourning last night after more
      than 700 Shia pilgrims died in a stampede across a
      Baghdad bridge, in the deadliest incident since the
      March 2003 invasion. Panic broke out when hundreds of
      thousands of Shia Muslims converged from alleys on to
      the al-Aima bridge, crushing hundreds and forcing
      hundreds more into the Tigris river, where they
      drowned.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~





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