Amidst ongoing war which has taken the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens, Iraq today experienced one of the worst stampede tragedies of the 21st century, taking the lives of an estimated 1000 panic stricken civilians who scrambled to avoid a suicide bomber whom they believed mistakenly was amongst them.
What began as a tragedy of seven deaths when mortar rounds were fired at a crowd of Shiite pilgrims on their way to religious celebrations on Wednesday, ended with what medical officials believe to be at least 1000 dead, as crowds rushed in a fearful stampede to their deaths after hearing rumors of a suicide bomber about to detonate his explosives.
According to eyewitnesses, a crowd member yelled that a suicide bomber was about to blow himself up as hundreds of pilgrims were crossing Baghdad's Tigris River Bridge on their way to celebrate at the Kadhimiya mosque. The pilgrims were on their way to celebrate the martyrdom of Musa Al Kadhim, an important Shiite religious figure.
"Hundreds of people started running and some threw themselves off the bridge into the river," one Iraqi source said. "Many elderly died immediately as a result of the stampede but dozens drowned." Iraqi sources believe most of the victims to be women and children.
According to Reuters, two top Iraqi Shiite officials have accused loyalists to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of deliberately causing the tragedy stampede.
"We hold the terrorists, Saddamists and radical extremists, responsible for what happened," Ammar al Hakim, a leader in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
However, Iraq's Defense Minister responded to the accusations, saying that the tragedy had nothing to do with rivalries in Iraq.
Earlier in the day, seven people were killed and 36 wounded when three separate mortar attacks targeted the Shiite pilgrims.
Iraq's Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari announced a three day morning period in honor of the victims.
Many believe that such attacks will become more frequent as Iraq becomes increasing divided along ethnic lines against the backdrop of the nation's current constitution dispute. The proposed constitution was approved last Sunday by Iraq's national assembly, with Shiite and Kurdish delegates approving and Sunni Arab delegates objecting.
Shiites make up some 60 percent of Iraq's 27 million population. They, along with Kurdish groups, expressed satisfaction with the constitution draft, which protects them from discrimination faced under former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Kurdish groups as well were pleased by the document's text, which set a 2007 deadline for settling whether the oil-rich region of Kirkuk should be a part of an autonomous Kurdish enclave.
Iraq's Sunni minority, comprising only 15 to 30 percent of the nation's population, and seen as the backbone of resistance to Iraq's present US-backed regime, feels that they are being discriminated against by the countries vast majority.
They are expected to vote down the constitution when presented for public approval at an upcoming October referendum.
Some analysts feel that the constitution crisis could result in what might become an Iraqi "civil-war".
© 2005 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)