BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Nine young soccer players and fans were killed when a bomb exploded near a pitch in southern Iraq, health officials said, in the latest of a wave of attacks raising fears of a return to widespread sectarian violence.
The explosion in a predominantly Shi’ite Muslim area of the city of Hilla came the same day as police and hospital sources said a roadside bomb killed five people near a pet shop popular with young people in a Sunni Muslim area of the northern city of Baquba.
More than 140 people have been killed in June in bombings targeting mainly Shi’ite pilgrims and shrines as political and sectarian tensions remain high.
Iraq’s Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions have been locked in a series of political spats since U.S. troops withdrew in December, with opponents to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accusing him of trying to consolidate power at their expense.
In Hilla, the bomb attached to a minibus exploded near a field where two youth teams had just finished a game, said police and hospital sources.
The dead and injured soccer players and fans were aged between 15 and 20, said Abdul Amir al-Jibouri, a media manager for the health department in Babil province. More than 30 others were injured, he added.
Hilla is 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad while Baquba is 65 km northeast of capital.
Violence in Iraq has fallen since the peak of sectarian fighting in 2006-07, but insurgents remain capable of lethal attacks.
Iraq’s al Qaeda wing has claimed some of the recent bombings against Shi’ites as it tries to stoke tensions.
At least 13 people were killed and more than 100 wounded on Friday when two roadside bombs exploded in a crowded market in a mainly Shi’ite area of Baghdad. A suicide bomber killed 15 mourners at a Shi’ite funeral in Baquba on Monday last week.
Reporting by Habib al-Zubaidi and Ali al-Rubaie in Hilla and a Reuters reporter in Baquba; Writing by Serena Chaudhry