Stampede during Ashoura ritual leaves dozens dead

Pilgrims gather during the religious festival of Ashura in the holy city of Karbala Iraq

Pilgrims gather during the religious festival of Ashura in the holy city of Karbala Iraq

Tens of thousands of people converge on the holy city at the start of Muharram - a holy month for all Muslims - to mark one of the most sacred religious holy days for the Shia sect.

Shia Muslims make the annual pilgrimage to commemorate the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Husayn in the Battle of Karbala in the year 680 by the forces of Caliph Yazid.

The incident happened toward the end of the Ashura procession, causing panic and a stampede.

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

It is Iraq's deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashura, whose commemorative marches had previously been targeted by Sunni extremist groups.

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The Ashoura procession was targeted for violence in 2004 when more than 140 people were killed in near simultaneous bombings in Baghdad and Karbala during the height of sectarian violence in Iraq.

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. The run is said to symbolize when the maternal cousins of Imam Hussein's half-brother al-Abbas ran from a nearby village to rescue him, only to find out that he had been killed. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give official statements.

As the massive crowds pressed forward, a stampede broke out that left at least 31 people dead and another 100 wounded, according to Iraq's health ministry.

No Iraqi media released images of the walkway collapse or ensuing stampede.

Streets across the country were shuttered Tuesday to allow for funeral-style processions and elaborate re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala. Numerous worshippers beat their chests and lash themselves with chains in an expression of grief and regret for not being able to help the murdered grandson of the Prophet.

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