KARBALA, Iraq, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Iraqi forces dismantled nine explosive devices Thursday north of the holy city of Karbala as religious violence grips the country ahead of two major holidays.
Security officials told the Voices of Iraq news agency that Iraqi police defused nine bombs just north of Karbala.
"Anti-bomb experts managed to defuse the bombs without casualties," said Iraqi Maj. Alaa Abbas.
An improvised explosive device, meanwhile, exploded in a restaurant just north of Karbala, killing as many as nine people.
Iraqi security officials ordered thousands of troops to Karbala ahead of the Shiite holiday of Ashura. Shiites on Sunday commemorate the death of the grandson of the prophet Mohammed, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680.
Meanwhile, as many as 25 Shiite pilgrims were killed in Hilla in the central province of Babil when they struck a roadside bomb.
Iraqi Christians, who are preparing for the Christmas holiday Friday, were targeted in the northern province of Ninawa.
On Wednesday a bomb exploded near a Christian church in Mosul and unknown gunmen Thursday killed a bus driver. Security forces, meanwhile, said Mosul Mayor Zuhair Muhsen al-Aaraji escaped an assassination attempt on Thursday.
VOI said his motorcade struck an improvised explosive device in central Mosul on Thursday, but there were no casualties in the attack.