31 die in stampede at Ashura rituals in Kerbala

At least 31 people have been killed and 100 injured in a stampede during the Shia Muslim religious rituals of Ashura in Iraq‘s holy city of Kerbala, report agencies.

The death toll, released by the Iraqi Health Ministry, was expected to rise as at least 10 people were in a critical condition. The ministry did not disclose how they had been killed but the shrine official told Reuters the stampede took place at the entrance to the ornate building. 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.

Hussein's death in a battle at Kerbala over the leadership of the Islamic community is one of the defining events in the schism between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. The rituals commemorating the death of Hussein involve self-flagellation, with crowds of mourners striking themselves and some lacerating their heads with blades. Stampedes have occurred in the past.

The collapse caused a panicked rush among worshippers near the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine. Officials said the stampede took place during the so-called “Tweireej” run, when tens of thousands of people run towards the shrine around noon. The annual pilgrimage, which marks the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Imam Hussein, in battle in the year 680, draws hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims from around the world to Kerbala.

Imam Hussein’s death is thought to have cemented the schism between Shia and Sunni Islam. During the rituals Shia Muslims cut themselves with swords and knives and cover their bodies with mud. They mark the holy Day of Ashura, the 10th day of the “mourning month” of Muharram.

Stampedes have occurred during the rituals in the past. The processions have also been attacked by extremist Sunni militants.
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 Kerbala during the Ashura procession.

In 2005, rumours of a suicide bomber among worshippers crossing a bridge during a different religious holiday caused a massive stampede, killing more than 950 people, many of whom jumped in panic into the Tigris River.