Nuncio in Baghdad Mourns Deadly Stampede

Hundreds Die After Rumors of Suicide Attack Stirs Panic

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, AUG. 31, 2005 ( The Catholics of Baghdad felt «a sense of shock» after hearing of the stampede that left 769 Shiite pilgrims dead, says the papal nuncio to Iraq.

The Muslim pilgrims were trampled, crushed against barricades or plunged into the Tigris River today when a procession across a bridge was overcome with panic after rumors rose that a suicide bomber was at large.

Archbishop Fernando Filoni, apostolic nuncio in Iraq, told AsiaNews that Iraqi Catholics extend «all our solidarity to the families of victims and all those who suffer, as well as our prayers, as a way to be spiritually close to these people.»

The stampede started when rumors flew that two suicide attackers were about to blow themselves up in the Shiite mosque of Al Kazimiyah.

«How terrible that an event of public religious expression has been become such a drama for everyone,» said Archbishop Filoni, 59.

«This was to have been one of the first events with which the Shiites were to have expressed their religious freedom after years of having been oppressed in the expression of their religiosity,» he said.

Constitutional concerns

The nuncio recalls having seen «women and youngsters who had been joyously pouring by all night and throughout the morning even here, in front of the nunciature, on their way to the Al Kazimiyah mosque, for their religious celebration.»

Many of the dead were women and children, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The nuncio does not harbor immediate hopes over the recently announced draft constitution as a possible instrument of peace among various Iraqi groups.

«One cannot think,» he said, «that what was up until yesterday a stumbling block can become an instrument of peaceful coexistence. Problems and contradictions existed and will be brought forward.»

The solution to the problem will perhaps be «in the understanding that people have of this document,» Archbishop Filoni said. «Newspapers began only today publishing the draft and people still need to form a complete opinion which could eventually become consensus for a referendum.»

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