Iraq shrine collapse: Al Sadr urges government to investigate Karbala landslide

Rescue workers are searching the rubble to find survivors

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Iraqi cleric and political leader Moqtada Al Sadr has called on the government to investigate the causes behind a landslide that killed at least seven people at a Shiite shrine near the southern city of Karbala.

Rescue workers in Iraq on Monday continued for survivors by using a bulldozer to try to remove the rubble.

The shrine is flanked by two minarets and sits at the base of high, bare rock walls.

Part of its concrete roof has been destroyed.

"We demand the government [opens] an immediate and serious investigation in order to reveal the truth so that corruption does not impact mosques and places of worship as it affected state institutions and ministries," Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter.

Mr Al Sadr sent a delegation to the site on Monday and urged authorities to close the shrine and rehabilitate it.

The cleric's representative, Halim Al Fatlawi, said: "We call for the importance of closing Al Qattara and rehabilitating it according to the standards of urban roads, and it should be with the care of the state and not the people.

"Mr Al Sadr ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the incident and to find out the reasons."

The governor of Karbala, Nassif Al Khattabi, said he had formed a high-level committee to investigate the incident.

"We decided to carry out an investigation into the matter to find out the reasons behind the collapse and submit the recommendations to the authorities at the nearest time," his office said.

He said the area would be closed for further investigation.

Iraq's Civil Defence said the landslide was caused by humidity that saturated an earthen embankment next to the shrine.

Mr Al Sadr, a Shiite cleric who wants to end US and Iranian influence over Iraq's internal affairs, has tens of thousands of supporters across the country.

His political bloc won the most parliamentary seats in elections last October, but a continued deadlock has prevented the country from forming a new government.

By Monday morning, the bodies of a child, four women and two men were recovered from the site.

Three children were rescued and taken to hospital. They were in "good condition", emergency services said.

Pilgrims thought to be trapped

On Sunday night, Civil Defence spokesman Nawas Shaker said that between six and eight pilgrims were still trapped under the rubble.

Iraqi President Barham Salih urged rescue workers to "mobilise all efforts to save the trapped people".

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi has directed the interior minister to supervise the rescue efforts.

A similar incident took place in 2019 when 31 pilgrims were killed and 100 injured in a walkway collapse that set off a stampede in Karabala.

It occurred when thousands of Shiite Muslims were marking Ashoura, one of the most religious periods of the Shiite calendar.

The collapsed shrine was dedicated to Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed. It is located about 25 kilometres west of Karbala, the burial place of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Updated: August 22, 2022, 12:40 PM