At least 40 killed as overloaded ferry sinks in Iraq's Tigris river

Scene after the ferry capsized on the banks of Mosul

Col Hussam Khalil, the head of the Civil Defense Corps in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, said the incident occurred on Thursday while scores of people - mostly women and children - were celebrating Nowruz, which marks the Kurdish new year and the arrival of spring.

The rescue team was retrieving survivors and had rescued 12 people so far, Khalil said.

Mobile phone footage showed the ferry sinking into the muddy water and people shouting for help.

This year, Mother's Day and Nowruz, the Kurdish and Persian new year, fell on the same day and families throughout Iraq are celebrating a long weekend.

Police and medical sources said earlier at least 40 people had drowned.

Iraqi forces drove the Islamic State group from Mosul in 2017 after a devastating campaign that left entire neighbourhoods in ruins.

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Mosul Mayor Zuhair Araji said the vessel had "reached its capacity", possibly causing it to succumb, according to Kurdistan24. "It can normally carry 50 people". He said the stricken ferry was overloaded with around 150 people when it capsized.

"I can not describe the scene, it's a catastrophe", he said.

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has ordered an inquiry into the accident.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad offered its condolences to "the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the tragic ferry accident on the Tigris River near Mosul".

The holiday dates back to at least 1700 BC and incorporates ancient Zoroastrian traditions.

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