HILLA, Iraq — Twenty-seven people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a string of attacks across Iraq on Thursday ahead of Christmas and the Shiite commemoration ceremonies of Ashura.

In the worst attack, 15 people including a provincial councillor were killed and 70 wounded when twin bombs struck outside a busy bus station in Hilla, south of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.

"Fifteen people, including provincial councillor Neemat al-Bakri, were killed and 70 wounded in the explosion caused by a car bomb and a mine," said an interior ministry source.

Bakri was a member of the multi-confessional alliance formed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to contest parliamentary elections scheduled for March next year.

Also identified among those killed was Colonel Taleb al-Shamri, a police officer in charge of local efforts to eradicate improvised explosive devices.

The attack took place in a car park in the centre of Hilla, a mainly Shiite town that is the capital of Babil province.

Witness Fadel Hassa, 25, who has a shop nearby, said a car had stopped at the Babel Hussein bus station around 1:30 pm (1030 GMT) and that the explosion occurred within moments.

"A few minutes later... police came to disarm a bomb placed some 20 metres (yards) from the site of the first attack, and it exploded as they arrived, causing numerous injuries among passersby and the police."

In the sacred Shiite town of Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad where pilgrims were converging for Ashura ceremonies culminating on Sunday, a bomb killed one person and wounded 12, security sources said.

The late afternoon attack occurred despite the deployment of 20,000 police.

In Baghdad, eight people were killed and 30 others injured when two explosive devices went off earlier in the afternoon.

The first bomb was attached to a car near a commemoration ceremony in Sadr city, the poor Shiite neighbourhood north of the capital, leaving five dead and 25 wounded, according to a military spokesman.

The second, which killed three people and injured 20, exploded in Zafraniya, south of the city centre, where a preliminary Ashura ceremony was also taking place.

Ashura, which means tenth in Arabic, falls on the tenth day of the Muslim month of Muharram and commemorates the death of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Tradition holds that Hussein was decapitated and his body mutilated by the armies of Sunni caliph Yazid in 680 AD.

In Mosul, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad, a 23-year-old Christian, Bassel Icho Yuhanna, was killed when gunmen opened fire on his minibus as he was parking it in front of his house in the east of the city, police chief Mohammed Jassem said.

In Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, local army captain Zamel Mohammed was killed in a bomb attack on his car as he was driving through the north of the city.

In Sharkat, 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Baghdad, a member of the Sahwa anti Al-Qaeda militia group was killed and three of his comrades wounded when gunmen opened fire on their checkpoint.

The Sahwa, known as the "Sons of Iraq" by the US army, joined American and Iraqi forces to wage war in 2006 and 2007 against Al-Qaeda and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence across the country. But attacks remain common in some areas.

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