Almost 100 people, mostly women and children, died Thursday (March 21st) as a ferry packed with families celebrating Kurdish New Year sank in a swollen river in the former extremist stronghold of Mosul, in Iraq's worst accident in years, AFP reported.
There was an outpouring of grief among residents who only this year resumed the annual festivities on the banks of the Tigris after the northern city's recapture from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi decreed three days of national mourning as he visited the site of the tragedy. He ordered a swift investigation "to determine responsibilities".
The vessel was crammed with men, women and children crossing the Tigris to go to a popular picnic area to celebrate Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year and a holiday across Iraq marking the start of spring.
The accident, which struck as the overloaded vessel turned back, also coincided with Mother's Day in Iraq.
The interior ministry, issuing a fresh toll, said 94 people had died and 55 were rescued, after its spokesman Saad Maan said at least 19 children were among the dead.
The premier said 61 women had died in the accident.
"All we wanted was to celebrate the New Year and it turned into a catastrophe," a man passing the scene protested.
While war and ISIS attacks have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq in recent years, such accidents are relatively rare.
A Mosul security source said the high water levels and overcrowding on the boat, with well over 100 people on board, had been to blame for the disaster.
Iraq's justice ministry said it had ordered the arrest of nine ferry company officials and banned the owners of the vessel and the tourist site from leaving the country.