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Shiite Iraqis bury stampede victims

By Associated Press
Published September 2, 2005

BAGHDAD - Wailing over the coffins of loved ones Thursday, Shiites buried the nearly 1,000 victims of a stampede on a bridge while politicians and ordinary Iraqis demanded the government explain whether botched security controls may have played a part in the tragedy.

Tension and confusion persisted one day after the biggest loss of life in a single event in Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. Gunfire erupted at the bridge during a protest march, killing a 12-year-old girl and wounding four other people.

Meanwhile, the United States launched airstrikes for the third time in a week near the Syrian border, destroying a train station it said was used by al-Qaida in Iraq to store weapons.

The Health Ministry said the casualty toll from the stampede, which broke out as a result of rumors that a suicide bomber was in the crowd, stood at 965 dead and 439 injured. The Interior Ministry said no final tally was available but that the death toll was between 900 and 1,000.

Anger over the tragedy sent hundreds of Shiites marching toward the bridge Thursday, shouting slogans blaming al-Qaida's Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for the stampede.

Zarqawi has called openly for sectarian war here, believing the Shiites to be traitors to the country and Islam.

No one had told the Iraqi soldiers guarding the bridge about the demonstration, so as the angry crowd approached, troops fired over protesters, police said. Three people were hurt in the ensuing panic.

Across the river in the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah, police said gunmen in several cars opened fire toward the bridge. Local residents in turn shot at the gunmen's cars.

Gunmen on each side of the river thought they were under attack from the other and began firing across the river, pinning down dozens of pedestrians on the bridge. The 12-year-old girl was killed at the Sunni side of the bridge and one man was wounded, police said.

Also Thursday, three Iraqis were hanged for murder in the first executions in Iraq since Hussein's ouster.

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