Funerals For Hundreds In Iraq

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.
AP
Thousands of people flocked to the funerals Thursday of the nearly 1,000 Shiite pilgrims killed in a stampede during a religious procession, as critics blasted the government for failing to prevent the tragedy.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari, who visited a hospital where many of the victims were taken, said neighboring countries such as Jordan and Iran had offered to help treat the victims.

"We are ready to send abroad any patient who needs medical treatment there," he said.

Wednesday's disaster on a bridge in north Baghdad appeared to have been sparked by a rumor that a suicide bomber was among the more than one million people gathering at a Shiite shrine in the capital.

Most of the victims on Imams bridge were trampled or crushed in the midday stampede. Others plunged 30 feet into the muddy Tigris river. The majority of those killed were women and children, officials said.

Iraq's Ministry of Interior announced Thursday that 953 people had died and 815 were injured in the crush. But Health Ministry spokesman Qassim Yahya on Thursday said 843 had been killed and 439 injured. It was not possible to reconcile the two.

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.

In related developments:

  • Gunfire erupted Thursday after protesters marched toward the bridge where nearly 1,000 Shiites died in a stampede the day before. Three people were injured in the latest melee, which triggered an exchange of fire between rival neighborhoods over the Tigris River.
  • There will be no large-scale shifting of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan to help with disaster relief in Louisiana and Mississippi, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Thursday. Lt. Col. Trey Cate said top military officials are exploring ways to bring individual troops home to take care of families in need without altering the balance of forces in the war zones.
  • 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 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.