31 Dead in Stampede at Iraqi Shiite Shrine
At least 31 pilgrims died Tuesday in a stampede at a major shrine in the Iraqi city of Karbala as they marked the holy day of Ashoura, the health ministry said.
Another 75 people were injured at the shrine around 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, said spokesman Saif al-Badr.
It is the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashoura, when Shiite pilgrims from around the world swarm Karbala to commemorate the death of Hussein, Prophet Mohammed's grandson.
He was killed in the year 680 by the forces of the Caliph Yazid, a major event which helped solidify the divide between what would become Islam's Sunni and Shiite branches.
On Tuesday, packed processions of black-clad worshipers made their way to his gold-domed shrine in Karbala, carrying black flags with "Hussein" written in red and wailing loudly.
Some whipped their backs and chests to demonstrate their sorrow.
Others -- even young boys -- cut incisions into their foreheads with scalpels or large sabers, leaving streams of blood cascading down their faces.
Similar ceremonies took place in the capital Baghdad and in the southern cities of Najaf and Basra.
Under ex-dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime, the vast majority of Ashoura commemorations were banned.
Now, the day is a national holiday, with streets across the country shuttered to allow for elaborate re-enactments of the Battle of Karbala.
In 2005, at least 965 pilgrims heading to the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad during a different holiday died after rumors of a suicide bomber in the crowd sparked a mass stampede.