Baghdad, Sept. 1 (Reuters): Grieving relatives of about 1,000 Iraqis killed in a stampede combed hospitals and morgues today 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 Tigris river 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 Shia suburb of Sadr City. Many of the bodies then made their final journey to Najaf, the most holy Shia 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 yesterday when thousands of Shia 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.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari today ordered the payment of 3 million dinars (around $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.
Jaafari vowed tough action against the militants.