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Iraq Transition

Iraq mourns stampede victims

Baghdad, Najaf scenes of funerals for nearly 1,000 Shiites

The mother and sister of a man killed in the stampede touch his coffin.



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Thousands of people have gathered in Baghdad for funerals of the nearly 1,000 Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed in a mass stampede during a religious procession.

Police said 965 pilgrims drowned or were trampled to death and 810 others injured in Wednesday's crush on a bridge in northern Baghdad.

Weeping families and friends are holding funeral processions on the streets of Baghdad as well as in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, and relatives are still arriving at hospitals to identify the dead.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited the hospital where many of the victims were taken.

The government announced three days of national mourning and said relatives of victims would be paid compensation of about $2,000 for every person lost.

The chaos began when rumors of an imminent suicide bombing spread through the more than 1 million people gathering at a Shiite shrine in the capital.

Authorities said they believe such talk created panic on the al-A'imma bridge over the Tigris River. During the commotion, a railing gave way, and people fell to the river below. (See video of the bridge jammed with people after the panic.)

Three hours earlier, an insurgent mortar attack near the same Kadhimiya mosque killed seven people and wounded 36 others.

Government officials are investigating that attack and the stampede. They said they also want to explore the extent of any "technical defects" on the bridge.

"This will leave a scar in our souls and will be remembered with those who died in the result of terror acts," President Jalal Talabani said.

The scale of the tragedy shocked the nation, prompting comparisons to stampedes at other religious events, such as those in Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday's ceremony is one that annually attracts millions of Shiite pilgrims to Baghdad.

The Shiite faithful converge on the Kadhimiya mosque to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Moussa al-Khadhem, a prominent figure in Shiite history buried there.

Security had been tight at the bridge, with barricades and searches adding to the congestion.

The bridge across the Tigris leads to the shrine and is an important juncture in Baghdad -- separating Kadhimiya from Adhamiya, a longtime insurgent stronghold with a strong Sunni Arab presence.

Al-Jaafari gave a nationally televised address about the stampede and earlier mortar attack in an attempt to calm Iraqis.

He urged people "to be patient with the current circumstances" and called on the country's Shiites, Sunnis and Christians "to think about the benefit of Iraq."

"We heard the news that some of those enemies attacked innocent people with mortars killing our faithful sons. This attack caused chaos among the Iraqi people in other areas in Baghdad and then because of the technical defects of the bridge, many people were martyred."

Other developments

  • U.S. Marine planes pounded what officials described Thursday as "an identified terrorist safe haven" in the western Anbar province near the Syrian border. The 2nd Marine Division said that F/A 18s obliterated a building in Husayba with precision-guided, 500-pound bombs, adding that the number killed in the airstrikes was undetermined.
  • The Iraqi government on Thursday hanged three people convicted of murder and rape, according to Laith Kubba, a spokesman for the prime minister's office. The hangings marked the first time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003 that such executions had been carried out. (Full story)
  • CNN's Enes Dulami, Cal Perry, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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