Iraq Stampede Toll Rises To 953

Shoes of the victims are seen on the bridge over the Tigris river, in Baghdad, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005. A railing collapsed Wednesday on a bridge packed with Shiite worshippers marching in a religious procession, sending crowds tumbling into the Tigris River. At least 640 people died, including women and children, a senior police official said.
Panic engulfed thousands of Shiites marching across a bridge in a religious procession Wednesday after rumors spread that a suicide bomber was about to attack, triggering a stampede that killed nearly a thousand people.

The death toll rose Thursday, as Iraq's Interior Ministry said that the number of people who died now stands at 953. Another 815 were injured.

Most of the pilgrims in the accident — predominantly women and children — were trampled to death on the Two Imams bridge, although some jumped or were pushed into the muddy Tigris River about 30 feet below and drowned, officials said.

It was the single biggest confirmed loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Tensions already had been running high in the procession in Baghdad's heavily Shiite Kazimiyah district because of a mortar attack two hours earlier against a shrine where the marchers were heading. The shrine was about a mile from the bridge.

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan reports that Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi said someone shouted there was a suicide bomber in the crowd. Even though no bomb exploded, the fear alone was deadly as hundreds were either crushed in the panic or drowned in the Tigris.

Reflecting the confusion, casualty figures from various government agencies also varied widely. The Health Ministry said 769 people were killed and 307 wounded, while the Interior Ministry put the figure at 844 dead and 458 injured. The country's biggest Shiite party gave figures of 759 dead and 300 wounded. Other reports estimated the death toll would climb above 1,000.

In other recent developments in Iraq:

  • U.S. forces in Iraq suffered at least 74 combat deaths in August — more than in any month since last November and the third-highest total for any month of the war, according to Pentagon figures.
  • A U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb in the city of Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said.
  • Eyewitnesses said the town of Qaim, about 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, was quiet and virtually deserted Wednesday after a day of U.S. airstrikes and heavy fighting between the pro-government Bumahl tribe and the pro-insurgent Karabilah tribe. Iraqi officials said 45 people had died, most in the tribal clashes, during which hundreds of residents fled their homes and took refuge in the surrounding countryside. The border region is considered a prime infiltration route for smugglers and foreign militants trying to reach central and western Iraq.
  • The U.S. ambassador to Iraq suggested Tuesday there may be further changes to the draft constitution in order to win Sunni Arab approval, saying he believed a "final, final draft" had not yet been presented. Zalmay Khalilzad spoke alongside Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, who urged Sunnis to reject the constitution in the Oct. 15 referendum as it stands. The presence of Khalilzad with a respected Sunni figure is seen as a sign the Bush administration has not given up on its campaign to win Sunni endorsement.

    Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, declared a three-day mourning period after the tragedy.

    Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi said three suicide bombers were stopped Wednesday some distance from the shrine, but "they blew themselves up before reaching their destination."

    Dr. Hamid Jassim, the head of a medical team accompanying the pilgrims, said some people did go off the bridge at the start of the stampede, but the crowds soon started pressing in both directions, and "most of the casualties either died from suffocation or from being trampled,"

    "Many of the panicked people who jumped into the Tigris trying to save themselves survived with broken bones. Others drowned because they did not know how to swim," he said.