BAGHDAD (AP) — A stampede outside a stadium in southern Iraq on Thursday killed at least two people and injured dozens, a health official said. Witnesses blamed the deadly incident on what they said was bad organization of the tournament.
The deadly incident happened in the southern city of Basra as spectators gathered to attend the final match in the first international soccer tournament held in Iraq in four decades. The official Iraqi News Agency said some of the 60 people who were injured outside the Basra International Stadium were in critical condition.
A physician at Basra General Hospital told The Associated Press that two people were killed and 38 were injured. Some of those with minor injures were treated and quickly discharged. The physician spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
“There was no coordination. Lots of people came here but regrettably, there was no organization,” said Hassan Hadi. He arrived in Basra from the southern Iraqi city of Najaf three days ago to attend the final match and was not able to enter.
Riot police beat some spectators with clubs to push them away from the gate when the stampede erupted, he said.
Saddam Hassan, an ambulance driver, said there were people of all ages standing by a metal fence leading to the entrance where the stampede took place. He said his ambulance took injured with “bruises and broken bones” to hospital.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry urged people without tickets for the final match to leave the area. It said the stadium was full and that all gates were closed.
Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who arrived in Basra on Thursday, urged people to help authorities in order to “show the final match of 25th edition of the Gulf Cup in its most beautiful form.”
In the afternoon, Basra authorities said the situation was under control and that the crowds had moved away from the stadium, according to the state news agency.
Earlier in the day, the Iraqi News Agency reported that giant screens were placed in different public places, as well as another stadium in Basra, so that people can watch the match. The game in the eight-nation Arabian Gulf Cup will see Iraq play Oman later Thursday.
The Oman Football Association said Omani citizens who are currently at Basra’s airport will start returning home for their own safety and in order to help Iraqi authorities make the final match “successful.”
Oman’s Foreign Ministry expressed condolences to the Iraqi government and people over the stampede, and wished the injured a quick recovery.
The tournament, which started Jan. 6, had several incidents, including an outbreak of commotion inside the VIP section that made a Kuwaiti prince walk away from attending the opening match. It was not clear what the commotion entailed but Kuwaiti media said it was “bad organization.”
The tournament included teams from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — as well as Yemen and Iraq.
It’s the first time since 1979 that Iraq has hosted the tournament.