BAGHDAD: A walkway collapsed and set off a stampede in the holy city of Karbala on Tuesday as thousands of Shiite Muslims marked one of their holiest days of the year. At least 31 people were killed and about 100 were injured.
It was the deadliest stampede in recent history during Ashoura commemorations, when hundreds of thousands of people converge on the city, some 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, for the occasion every year.
The incident happened toward the end of the Ashoura procession, causing a panicked rush among worshippers near the gold-domed Imam Hussein shrine, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press from Karbala.
In recent years, Ashoura processions have been attacked by extremist 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 Karbala during the Ashoura procession.
In 2005, rumors 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 their panic, into the Tigris River.
Tuesday's commemorations were peaceful until the walkway collapsed, triggering the chaos.
The incident took place during the so-called "Tweireej" run, when tens of thousands of people run toward the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala around noon.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of thousands of black-clad pilgrims held Ashoura processions amid beefed-up security in Karbala and in the capital, Baghdad, marching through the streets.