At least 953 people were killed when Shiite Muslim pilgrims stampeded on a bridge spanning the Tigris River in northern Baghdad after insurgents attacked a nearby mosque, the Iraqi government said late today.
Iraq's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Feisal al- Istrabadi, confirmed an Interior Ministry tally from hospitals and said fatalities could reach as high as 1,000. The envoy said 815 people were injured. It was the single deadliest incident since the U.S. invaded the country in March 2003.
"When people heard that the mosque had been attacked, they panicked and rushed toward the bridge to get out of the area," Iraqi National Assembly adviser George Sada said earlier in the day by telephone from the Iraqi capital. "There were so many people on the bridge that many fell over its sides and drowned in the Tigris, others were crushed." Other accounts said people in the crowd reacted to rumors of a suicide bomber among them, reports Bloomberg.
According to The Moscow Times, police said they found no explosives - neither on any individual nor in any cars parked nearby. Still, the country's largest Shiite political party blamed the deaths on "fundamentalists, pro-Saddam elements and terrorists and those who collaborate with them."
"We heard that a suicide attacker was among the crowd," said Fadhel Ali, 28, barefoot and soaking wet. "Everybody was yelling, so I jumped from the bridge into the river, swam and reached the bank. I saw women, children and old men falling after me into the water."
Dr. Hamid Jassim, the head of a medical team accompanying the pilgrims, said some people did go off the bridge at the start of the stampede, but the crowds soon started pressing in both directions, and "most of the casualties either died from suffocation or from being trampled,"
"Many of the panicked people who jumped into the Tigris trying to save themselves survived with broken bones. Others drowned because they did not know how to swim," he said