BAGHDAD - 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 US troops withdrew in December, with opponents to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accusing him of trying to consolidate power at their expense.

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