Twenty three people have been killed by a series of bombs that ripped through Iraq and its capital Baghdad.

Three bombs went off simultaneously in Sabaa al-Bour, a small Shiite city about 30km (20 miles) north of the national capital.

The blasts struck an outdoor market that was packed with shoppers. Two devices went off at the market entrance while the third exploded well inside the shopping area.

Police and hospital officials said a number of women and children were among the dead, while dozens were injured.

Earlier a bomb blast hit the al-Athorien market in Baghdad's southern neighbourhood of Dora in a separate attack.

At least seven people, including two women, were killed and 17 wounded, authorities said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Ethnic violence is rife in the country and has reached its worst levels in recent years, with more than 4,000 people killed during the past few months.

A cluster of Sunni militant groups, including al-Qaida, have increased attacks against Iraq's Shiite-led government, fuelling an outbreak of sectarian violence that threatens to push the country into civil war, as it did in 2006 and 2007.

Al-Qaida's local franchise, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has killed more people in Iraq in the last few months than at any time since 2008.

The group has carried out a spate of terrorist attacks and staged spectacular prison breaks, extending its reach into neighbouring Syria, where it has exploited the ongoing civil war to talk over control of large rebel-held areas.

It was said to have executed Italian missionary Paolo Dall'Oglio, although reports of the activist's death have yet to be confirmed.