31 Shiite pilgrims killed, 100 wounded in stampede in Iraq's Karbala
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(Photo: China Plus)

At least 31 Shiite pilgrims were killed and some 100 others were wounded on Tuesday in a stampede in the holy Shiite city of Karbala in south of Baghdad, Iraq's Health Ministry said.

The incident took place in the afternoon during the major Shiite ritual of Ashura when thousands of Shiite pilgrims pushed into the entrance of the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, some 110 km south of Baghdad.

"The death toll rose to 31 people and some 100 others were wounded in the stampede in Karbala and 10 of the wounded are in critical condition," Sayf al-Badr, the ministry's spokesman, said in a statement, citing latest reports.

The Shiite community commemorates Ashura, which marks the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of Prophet Mohammed, who was killed and buried in 680 A.D. in Karbala.

During the past 10 days, up to 4 million Shiite pilgrims arrived in Karbala from other Iraqi provinces and outside Iraq to perform the major ritual of Ashura, according to figures announced by the al-Furat al-Awsat Operations Command.

Iraqi televisions aired live footage showing that the streets of Karbala were clearly overcrowded by a large number of black-clad pilgrims, including men, women and children, who waved green, black and red flags while marching on the streets.

Some pilgrims beat their chests and heads, or even performing self-flagellation with chains and blades, in honor of Imam Hussein who was killed in the battle of Karbala in the seventh century.

The stampede occurred during the Tuwayrij Run, which is part of the major Ashura ritual, as a large crowd of Shiite pilgrims were running while beating their chests and heads from the Tuwayrij area towards the Imam Hussein shrine to express their sadness and sorrow for the death of Imam Hussein.

Tuesday is the climax of the ritual of Ashura, which means "10" in Arabic, as the killing of Imam Hussein took place on the 10th day of Muharam, the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar.