Iraqi Shiite shrine collapse kills seven

Rescue operation under way after landslide causes partial collapse of shrine in south of the country

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Seven people have been killed after a landslide caused a partial collapse of a Shiite shrine in southern Iraq, government officials said.

A search and rescue operation was under way on Sunday, with six people rescued after the collapse on Saturday.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Khalid Al Muhanna told The National earlier that three people rescued were in good condition.

Three more were rescued later on Sunday.

“We believe that there are still at least six others under the rubble,” Maj Gen Al Muhanna said on Sunday.

“The operation is still going on and the elite rescue team has arrived from Baghdad, as well as others from nearby provinces.

“The hardship we are facing is that the place is narrow, as rocky hills flank the shrine from three sides, leaving only narrow access.”

By Sunday afternoon, the Civil Defence said three bodies had been pulled from the rubble.

Iraqi shrine hit by landslide

Iraqi shrine hit by landslide

Teams worked through the night under floodlights and were able to provide supplies of oxygen, as well as food and water, to people trapped through gaps in the rubble, the Civil Defence said in a statement carried by the Iraqi News Agency.

The rocks and sand began to slide because of the "saturation of the earthen embankment adjacent to the shrine" due to humidity, it said.

The shrine is in the desert about 25 kilometres west of the city of Karbala. This is home to the gold-domed shrines of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandsons Imam Hussein bin Ali and his brother Abbas.

Iraqi President Barham Salih on Twitter called on the "heroic" rescue workers to "mobilise all efforts to save the trapped people".

For Shiites, the site is a revered one. They say that when the fourth Caliph Imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, was on his way to the Battle of Siffin in 657 AD (37 Hijri) against Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, the rebellious governor of Syria, his army was thirsty so he removed a huge and heavy rock to reveal a water spring.

The place is locally known as Qattarat ('droplet') Imam Ali, in which water drips down in a small pool under a steep rocky hill.

In recent years, the site has been developed and a shrine with a green dome built next to it, attracting pious Shiites from Iraq and beyond.

Updated: August 22, 2022, 10:17 AM