Stampede at Karbala claims 31 lives

September 12, 2019

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Najaf: Relatives carry a victim’s body for funeral.—Reuters
Najaf: Relatives carry a victim’s body for funeral.—Reuters

KARBALA: More than 30 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in the Iraqi city of Karbala on Tuesday, the day of Ashura.

It was Iraq’s deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashura, in which hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world swarm Karbala, around 100 kilometres south of Baghdad.

The packed processions of black-clad worshippers made their way to his gold-domed shrine, carrying flags and crying out: “We sacrifice ourselves for you, Oh Hussein!”

As the massive crowds pressed forward, a stampede broke out that left at least 31 people dead and more than 100 more wounded, according to Iraq’s health ministry.

Spokesman Saif al-Badr said the death toll could rise as nine of the wounded were in critical condition.

Outside the Al Hussein Medical City in Karbala, paramedics wheeled wounded people into the emergency room throughout the afternoon.

`People were suffocating’

“The pilgrims started falling down all of a sudden,” said a young man in a wheelchair who had been bruised around the eye and temple.

“They piled up one on top of the other. There was a stampede and people were suffocating,” he said.

The governor of Karbala said four million pilgrims had taken part in the procession that led to the stampede.

Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi and Health Minister Alaa al-Din Alwan travelled to Karbala late in the day to visit the wounded as messages of support began pouring in, with President Barham Saleh expressing his “deep condolences” to the victims’ families.

Streets across Iraq were shuttered to allow for funeral-style processions and elaborate re-enactm­ents of the Battle of Karbala.

Similar ceremonies took place in Baghdad, in the southern city of Basra and in Najaf.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019