by Jamal Hashim
BAGHDAD, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) -- A series of bomb attacks targeting Shiite pilgrims and neighborhoods in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Thursday killed a total of 60 people and wounded some 138 others, as the country is plunged with political row that has provoked sectarian tensions.
The deadliest attack occurred in the afternoon when a suicide bomber blew up his explosive vest near a procession of Shiite pilgrims moving near the town of al-Batthaa, west of Dhi Qar's provincial capital city of Nassriyah, some 375 km south of Baghdad.
The attack resulted in the killing of 36 people, including an Iraqi army officer and two soldiers who were guarding the procession, and the wounding of 72 others.
The pilgrims were walking on a main road leading to the holy Shiite city of Karbala, some 110 km south of Baghdad, to commemorate the Arbaeen religious ritual, the climax of which will be on Jan. 13.
Arbaeen is the end of 40 days of mourning for the Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson who was killed at the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D.
Thursday's violence started in the morning when a spate of bombs ripped through Baghdad's Shiite bastions and killed a total of 24 and wounded some 66 others.
The first of the morning attacks occurred at around 8:00 a.m. ( 0500 GMT) in the Shiite bastion of Sadr City district in eastern Baghdad when a booby-trapped motorcycle targeted a crowd of construction workers gathering near an intersection in the district waiting to be hired for a day-long job.
A second attack took place at a busy intersection near the al- Sadr hospital in the same neighborhood of Sadr City when two roadside bombs detonated in a quick succession.
The two attacks in Sadr City left a total of nine people killed and 35 others wounded.
An hour later, more bomb attacks occurred in Baghdad's northern Shiite district of Kadhmiyah when two booby-trapped cars parked near crowded intersections detonated and killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.
The attacks came amid a political row between Maliki and his political rivals in the Sunni-backed bloc of Iraqia, as Maliki sought to arrest the Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi on terror charges.
In addition, Maliki asked the parliament to sack his Sunni deputy Salih al-Mutlak after the latter dubbed Maliki "a dictator" in an interview with the U.S. news channel CNN, and on another occasion he told his own satellite TV channel of Babiliyah that " Maliki is worse than Saddam Hussein."
The Iraqia bloc, headed by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, boycotted the parliament sessions and the cabinet meetings last month, demanding reforms and protesting "unilateralism" in decision-making by Maliki.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern in a statement on Tuesday about political tensions in Iraq "that could contribute to further insecurity in the country."
"The secretary-general urges all parties to work to resolve their differences peacefully through meaningful dialogue and compromise," the statement said.
"It is essential that pending political issues are resolved in a way that respects the constitution and its provisions for the separation of powers, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, " the statement said.
Many Iraqis are worried about a resurgence of ethnic and sectarian violence that once nearly torn the country apart a few years ago.
Special Report: Situation in Iraq