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Five pilgrims killed in a landslide at a Muslim shrine in Iraq

#pilgrims #killed #landslide #Muslim #shrine #Iraq

Rescuers searched the rubble of a Shia Muslim shrine in central Iraq until Sunday night after a landslide killed at least five people, including a child.

After more than 24 hours of digging through collapsed rock, timber and other debris, “we found five bodies,” Civil Defense General Abdelrahman Jawdat told AFP.

“This could be the final tribute,” he added, while continuing to dig in case there were other victims.

It’s the latest tragedy in oil-rich but poverty-stricken Iraq, which is trying to emerge from decades of war but is hampered by political paralysis, endemic corruption and other challenges.

Civil Defense spokesman Nawas Sabah Shaker said earlier that between six and eight pilgrims were trapped under the rubble of the shrine known as Qattarat al-Imam Ali near the city of Karbala.

Rescuers drove a bulldozer through the shrine’s entrance, which resembles a half-dome intricately decorated with blue tiles covered in Arabic script.

The sacred building, flanked by two minarets, is enthroned at the foot of high, bare rock faces. Part of the concrete roof had been torn apart.

Jawdat said rescuers recovered the bodies of two women, a man and a child, and were working to extricate the body of the fifth victim, another woman they found.

Armed security guards guarded the shrine entrance while rescuers worked inside and onlookers watched from behind a metal fence.

Three children were rescued after the disaster earlier on Saturday afternoon, emergency services said, adding they were in “good condition” and being monitored at a hospital.

Rescue teams working through the night on Saturday were able to provide oxygen, food and water to some of those trapped by gaps in the rubble, state news agency INA said.

– “Mobilize all forces” –

Iraqi President Barham Saleh on Twitter called on the “heroic” rescue workers to “mobilize all forces to rescue the trapped people”.

Acting Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi urged his interior minister to directly oversee the rescue on the ground and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

Rescue workers had previously said they would keep in touch with the victims verbally “to calm them down”.

“We are working hard and with the utmost precision to reach those trapped,” said Jawdat, director of the civil defense media department.

“Any mistake could lead to further collapses.”

A man at the scene, Bassem Khazali, said his nephew was among those buried.

“I fear that all efforts made will be in vain… We want to know what happened, why it happened,” Khazali told AFP.

Civil Defense spokesman Shaker told AFP that “sand dunes and rocks collapsed on the shrine building,” blaming the humidity.

The devastated shrine is dedicated to Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, who according to Shia tradition stopped there with his army on the way to battle in 657 AD.

It lies in a natural depression about 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Karbala, the holy city of the Shi’ites which is the burial place of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Shia consider Hussein, who died in battle in AD 680, to be the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad, the issue at the heart of a split with Sunni Islam.

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