Panic Kills Hundreds

In Baghdad Procession

* More than 750 people walking across a bridge in Baghdad, Iraq, yesterday were killed when a rumor swept through the crowd that a suicide bomber was in their midst.

The victims were pilgrims on their way to visit the tomb of a 9th-century Shiite (pronounced SHEE-ite) saint. Most of the dead were women and children who suffocated or were trampled in the frenzy to get off the bridge, officials said. It was the largest confirmed loss of life in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, they said.

In addition to the dead, more than 300 pilgrims were injured, some after jumping off the bridge into the Tigris River 30 feet below.

Tensions already were high in the crowd because of a mortar attack at the tomb site two hours earlier that killed at least seven.

Nearly a million pilgrims had gathered near the shrine, about a mile from the bridge, according to TV reports. The rumor of a suicide bomber quickly set off a panic on the 300-yard-long bridge.

Shiite processions are often targeted by Sunni (SOON-ee) extremists hoping to trigger a war between the two sects.

Sunni Arabs are a minority in Iraq (about 20 percent of the population), but they form the core of the armed resistance to Iraqi, U.S. and other troops there.

A boy is pulled from the Tigris River after a bridge railing collapsed.