BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A series of car bombs killed at least 14 people across Iraq early on Wednesday, the eve of a Muslim festival to mark the start of the Islamic year, police and hospital sources said.
The holy month of Muharram is of special significance to Shi'ite Muslims, who are a prime target of al Qaeda's Iraqi affiliate and other Sunni Islamist insurgents seeking to re-ignite the kind of sectarian violence that gripped the country in 2006-2007.
The deadliest explosion took place in the disputed and ethnically-mixed city of Kirkuk, 250 km (155 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, where four bombs planted in parked cars went off simultaneously, killing nine people and wounding 30, police said.
In the southern city of Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad, four people were killed in a car bomb blast, police and hospital sources said.
"A car bomb exploded near a secondary school for girls and a crowded poultry market, leaving four dead, including innocent students. It's a real vicious terrorist act," said Hamza Kadhim, a local official in Hilla.
Another car bomb targeting an Interior Ministry official in central Baghdad killed one passer-by and wounded nine others, including three policemen, hospital and police sources said.
(Reporting by Kareem Raheem in Baghdad, Ali al-Rubaie in Hilla and Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Jon Boyle)