This certainly has been a time of great tragedy, not only along America’s Gulf Coast but also overseas in Iraq where nearly 1,000 people perished in a stampede Aug. 31.
In Baghdad, as about one million Shiite Muslims marched in the city and across the Tigris River toward a shrine in commemoration of the eighth-century death of a Shiite saint, rumors of a suicide bomber sparked panic.
Thousands of people rushed to get off a bridge, with many falling and jumping into the river, others being crushed by the crowds.
Most of the dead are women and children.
News reports describe horrendous scenes of mothers lying dead with their dead children, of drowned bodies washing to the shore, of thousands of sandals and other clothing items littered alongside the bridge, and of relatives screaming in anguish over the bodies of their loved ones.
The horror came as a result of heightened bitterness between the majority Shiites who back plans for a new national constitution, and the minority Sunnis who fear that the new government will leave their group — many of whom supported Saddam Hussein’s regime — in a precarious situation.
Iraqi and American authorities found no evidence of a suicide bomber and speculation is rampant over whether rumors of an attacker were sparked by actual fears, or whether Sunni opponents of the marchers purposefully instigated the stampede.
“The crowd was on edge because of the 110-degree heat, a mortar barrage near the Shiite shrine where they were headed, and the ever-present fear of suicide bombers etched into memories after repeated attacks against large religious gatherings,” reported The Associated Press.
Another factor reported widely was the possibility that marchers were being poisoned by Sunni terrorists.
Free food was handed out to marchers along the parade route, and some believed that Shiite marchers were handed poisoned refreshments as they headed through Sunni areas.
The facts are still under investigation, but it is clear that seven people were killed by the mortar attacks.
National Public Radio reported that the death and destruction prompted an unusual level of unity among Iraq’s political parties, as leaders from all backgrounds condemned the situation and offered condolences to the victims and their families.
There’s no lessening the pain and horror of such events, but perhaps the enormity of the stampede will create a renewed desire among Iraqis to piece together a lasting and peaceful solution to their ongoing political problems.
Here’s yet another chance for Americans to offer their support and their prayers.