BAGHDAD -- A stampede in the holy city of Karbala on Tuesday killed at least 31 people and injured about 100 as thousands of Shiite Muslims marked one of their most solemn holy days of the year, officials said.
It was the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashoura commemorations, when hundreds of thousands of people converge on the city about 50 miles south of Baghdad.
The stampede happened toward the end of the Ashoura procession with a panicked rush among worshippers near the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, according to two officials in Karbala.
Mohammed Shenin Jebir, a pilgrim, said everything happened very suddenly.
"Visitors suddenly fell on the ground and there was a strong stampede; there were many pilgrims who all fell on top of each other," he said, speaking after being treated at the Hussein Medical City in Karbala for cuts and bruises above his right eye.
Ashoura commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, the Imam Hussein, by a rival Muslim faction in Karbala in what is now Iraq. Hussein and his descendants are seen by Shiites as the rightful heirs to the prophet. Hussein's killing has been attributed with making permanent the schism between Shiite and Sunni Islam.
In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist Sunni militants. In 2004, at the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, 143 people were killed in nearly simultaneous bombings at shrines in Baghdad and Karbala during the Ashoura procession.
Tuesday's commemorations were peaceful until the stampede.
The officials said the stampede took place during the so-called Tweireej run, when tens of thousands of people run toward the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala around noon.
The run, which spans 1 to 2 miles, symbolizes when the maternal cousins of Imam Hussein's half-brother al-Abbas ran from the nearby village of Tweireej to rescue him, only to find out that he had been killed.
The two officials -- one of them at the Imam Hussein shrine and the other a security official -- spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
At least 10 of the injured pilgrims were in critical condition, according to the officials.
"We lament this tragic loss of life and wish those injured a swift and full recovery," U.S. Ambassador Matthew Tueller said, offering his condolences to the families of the victims on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands of black-clad pilgrims held Ashoura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and in the capital, Baghdad. Many of the faithful beat their chests and lashed themselves with chains in a symbolic expression of grief and regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
On Sunday night, thousands marched toward the holy shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala, which had been lit up on the eve of the celebration.
A Section on 09/11/2019
Print Headline: Holy day stampede kills 31 people