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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Iraq head defiant after stampede
Relatives weep for stampede victims
Shias grieved openly for loved ones killed in the stampede
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari has dismissed calls for government ministers to resign over the deaths of some 1,000 Shia pilgrims in a stampede.

Health Minister Abdul Mutalib Mohammad Ali had blamed the interior and defence ministers for the crush on Wednesday.

Mr Jaafari said the ministers had done everything possible to ensure the pilgrims' security and criticised Mr Ali for making his remarks in public.

Rumours of an impending suicide attack are said to have sparked the stampede.

About one million pilgrims are said to have converged for a Shia festival at Baghdad's Kadhimiya mosque on Wednesday when the lethal crush took place.

Officials have confirmed that at least 965 died.

After earlier mortar attacks on the crowd killed seven people, panic at the apparent prospect of further attacks spread easily through the throng.

Many of the dead were women, children, or elderly, who drowned when railings along a bridge over the River Tigris gave way under pressure.

It was the biggest loss of life in Iraq in one day since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Ministers blamed

Funerals for the dead are being held and Mr Jaafari has declared a three-day period of mourning.

MUSLIM FESTIVAL TRAGEDIES
July 1987 - Saudi security forces clash with Iranian pilgrims in the holy city of Mecca, 402 killed
July 90 - 1,426 pilgrims killed in a stampede in Mecca
May 94 - 270 pilgrims killed in Mecca stampede
April 97 - More than 340 pilgrims killed and 1,500 injured in fires at tent city in Mina, Saudi Arabia
Feb 2004 - 251 pilgrims killed in stampede at Mina

At a press conference with US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, he said he did not accept blame directed at ministers in his cabinet.

"It is not in our style of the government to exchange accusations on television screens," he said.

The health minister, Mr Ali, a Shia seen as an ally of the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr, had earlier demanded the resignation of two cabinet colleagues.

"I hold my colleagues in the ministries of interior and defence responsible for what happened today," he said.

Sectarian fears

Mr Jaafari, however, said both ministries had made adequate security preparations for the event.

"I thank my two brothers the defence minister and the interior minister for their efforts," he said.

"Terrorists had to resort to fire mortars from a distance because of security measures."

Click here for a map of where the disaster took place

He described the stampede as a "terrorist attack not separate from terrorist attacks in the past" and promised an inquiry into the disaster.

Other Shia leaders said the rumours of a suicide bomber were started deliberately by agents of the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

However, Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaim rejected this, saying the deaths were not linked to tensions between Iraq's Shia and Sunni communities.

"What happened has nothing at all to do with any sectarian tension," he said.

Insurgents linked to al-Qaeda have frequently attacked large gatherings of Iraqi Shia, whom they regard as apostates.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Panic and grief after fatal Baghdad stampede



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