Ashura stampede leaves at least 31 dead

Symbol of grief Boys lash their own backs at the Ashoura event

At least 31 people died and another 102 were wounded on Tuesday (Sept 10) during the Shi'ite Muslim religious rituals of Ashura in Iraq's southern holy city of Kerbala, in what officials at its Imam Hussein shrine described as a stampede.

The annual pilgrimage marking the death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein in battle in 680 draws hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims to Kerbala from around the world.

Initial reports suggested that a pedestrian walkway had collapsed, but additional bulletins suggest there was a stampede, though Iraqi officials have yet to confirm this.

Ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr said the toll could rise even further, as another 100 people were injured including 10 in critical condition.

It took place during the so-called "Twireej" run, which is when tens of thousands of people run toward the shrine around noon.

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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!"

Tuesday's commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed, triggering the chaos.

Hussein's martyrdom was a key event in the unfolding schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In 2004, at the height of Iraq's sectarian violence, 143 people were killed in near simultaneous suicide and other bombings at shrines in Baghdad and Karbala during the Ashoura procession.

The processions usually occur under heightened security as in recent years they have been attacked by extremist militants from the Sunni movement.

The following year, at least 965 pilgrims were killed in a stampede on a bridge over the River Tigris in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, during a different Shia holy day.

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