Grieving relatives of about 1,000 Iraqis killed in a stampede combed hospitals and morgues Thursday for missing loved ones as the nation grieved over a tragedy which has overshadowed the daily bloodshed of war.
The stampede on a bridge over the river Tigris in Baghdad saw the greatest loss of Iraqi life in a single incident since the 2003 war to oust Saddam Hussein.
At Baghdad Medical City, a hospital in the capital, frantic relatives searched bodies swathed in brightly coloured red and yellow blankets looking for loved ones, many holding their noses against the stench as the fierce summer hastened decomposition.
Funeral tents were erected in the impoverished Baghdad Shi'ite suburb of Sadr City. Many of the bodies then made their final journey to Najaf, the most holy Shi'ite city, for burial.
The road to Najaf was choked with coffins loaded onto minivans and coaches. Security was stepped up, with dozens of police and army checkpoints on the road.
At least 965 people are known to have died on Wednesday when thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims taking part in a religious festival rushed for imagined safety onto the bridge, only to die in the river below or be crushed on the roadway.
The final toll, one senior official said, was likely to be more than 1,000, once all the bodies scattered in hospitals, makeshift morgues and family homes across the city were counted.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari Thursday ordered the payment of 3 million dinars (around US$2,000) to the family of each victim of the disaster.
Though fears of sectarian attacks, real or imagined, may have contributed to the panic that drove the pilgrims to their deaths, the shock was felt across the factional divides.
Also Thursday, Iraq hanged three murderers, carrying out death sentences for the first time here since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, the government spokesman announced.
Iraqi authorities reinstated the death penalty after the end of the US-led occupation in June 2004 so they would have the option of executing Saddam Hussein if he is convicted of crimes committed by his regime. Saddam is expected to stand trial soon after the October 15 constitutional referendum, an official said Thursday.
"At 10 am in Baghdad the first executions were carried out since the fall of the regime, against three criminals," spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters.
The government announced on August 17 that the three had been sentenced to death after having been convicted last May by a court in the Shi'ite city of Kut, 160 kilometres southeast of Baghdad.
Source: China Daily