Staggered explosions apparently targeting Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed at least 13 people and injured 74 on Thursday, authorities said, raising fears of further sectarian attacks at the approach of Shiite Islam's most solemn holiday.
The Associated Press reports the deaths come three days before the climax of Ashoura. The holiday's observers have frequently been attacked in the past.
Police Maj. Muthana Khalid said a first bomb exploded around 2 p.m. Thursday in Hillah, the capital of Babil province, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) south of Baghdad. He said the second explosion came as police rushed to the scene 15 minutes later.
The bombs apparently targeted Shiite pilgrims observing Ashoura who had gathered near a bus station in downtown Hillah.
Thousands of Shiites are expected to converge on the central city of Karbala for the Dec. 27 holiday to mourn the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in 680 A.D. during a battle that sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.
On Wednesday, three separate blasts targeting Shiite pilgrims in the Iraqi capital killed six people and wounded 43 others.
The Iraqi government has assigned more than 25,000 police and soldiers to protect pilgrims during the celebrations but has been unable to stop all the attacks.
The Shiite holiday was banned under former dictator Saddam Hussein. The majority of Iraqis are Shiites but Saddam's administration was primarily Sunni.