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Morning Report 8/31/05Stampede in Baghdead


600 trampled to death or drown after mortar blasts and rumors panic a Shiite pilgrimage crowd

How could it get any worse in Baghdad? Well, it has. A understandably jittery crowd of Shiite pilgrims, gathered a million strong for a holy day, panicked today, and more than 600 people were killed in the resulting stampede on a bridge.

Martrydom is a major theme in the Shia branch of Islam, so this tragedy is likely to find a hallowed place.

As far as death by human stampede, this tragedy moves to the top of the list for 2005, according to stats compiled by Crowd Dynamics Ltd., a consulting firm that works with the Saudis on preventing similar tramplings during the annual Hajj. (See Wikipedia’s list of fatal incidents during Hajj.)

Rumors of a suicide bomber in the crowd apparently set off today’s stampede near the Khadimiya mosque, but religious events are particularly deadly anyway. This past January 25, about 300 people were trampled to death during a religious festival in Wai, India, according to Crowd Dynamics.

Here’s what happened today, from the Washington Post:

Rumors of a suicide bomber in the midst of a crowd of Shiite Muslim pilgrims set off a stampede Wednesday on a Tigris River bridge, killing hundreds as panicked worshipers trampled others or hurled themselves off the bridge, according to witnesses and officials.

Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said 637 people died and another 183 were injured, though other estimates ranged widely.

The stampede occurred as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims walked to a Baghdad shrine in an annual religious commemoration that shut down much of Baghdad.

You can hardly blame people for panicking. Only two hours earlier, mortar rounds and rockets hit the area of the shrine, killing seven and wounding 40, and U.S. helicopters blasted back at the rocket launchers.

This was a huge crowd, estimated by some at a million people. And many of them were on a bridge over the Tigris when the rumor of a suicide bomber swept through them. More from the Post:

“The people when they were at the bridge, more than one person started yelling, and saying the bridge will fall down, the bridge will explode,” said Khalid Fadl, a nearby resident. “So the people started running in panic, pushing each other, trying to run away. Some of the people fell down, and the people stepped on them,” Fadl said.

“The others threw themselves off the bridge, into the river.”

Crowds tore down metal sidings erected along the sides of the bridge in order to leap into the river, witnesses said. Worshipers pulled countless bodies from the river into late afternoon.

No expression of sympathy yet from George W. Bush, whose handlers could at least release a statement. The White House’s “Renewal in Iraq” page gets renewed only when there’s supposedly good news. No wonder it’s not up to date.

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