BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Sunday for Shiites and Sunnis to use the Islamic holy month of Ramadan to put aside their differences, while authorities reported that at least 20 people were killed in scattered violence across the country.
Al-Maliki's plea for peace came a day after a retaliatory bombing killed dozens of Shiites in the capital.
"We are all invited to make use of these days to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and avoid anything that could hurt the social fabric of the Iraqi people," he said in a statement. "Iraq is living in a very sensitive and historic period."
Al-Maliki also pleaded for support for his nascent government, which received a boost Sunday when parliamentary groups agreed to open debate on a contentious Shiite-proposed draft legislation that would allow the creation of federal regions in Iraq.
The deal ends a two-week political deadlock that threatened to further sour relations between Iraq's Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. It came after a compromise was reached with Sunni Arabs on setting up a parliamentary committee to amend Iraq's constitution, a key demand by the minority.
Meanwhile, violence persisted across the country despite heightened security for Ramadan.
The Health Ministry in northern Baghdad was hit by two mortar shells, seriously injuring three civilians, police Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said. As police patrolled the area later, a roadside bomb exploded killing six people, including four policemen. Six people were injured.
In eastern Baghdad, a car bomb targeting another police patrol killed five people and wounded 17. A car bombing next to an army patrol in northern Baghdad killed two Iraqi soldiers.
An Iraqi soldier was gunned down in his car on his way to report to his unit in Baghdad Sunday morning, and two Iraqi soldiers were killed when a suicide car bomber slammed into a checkpoint in Tal Afar, about 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Authorities also discovered another 13 bodies, the apparent victims of sectarian death squads.
In Tikrit, Associated Press Television News footage showed medics in the morgue working to identify the severed heads of 10 Iraqi soldiers that were tossed into a crowded market in nearby Beiji the day before by unidentified gunmen.
The covered body of police Col. Ismaiel Chehayyan, killed the night before by gunmen while having his Ramadan fast-breaking dinner at a friend's house, lay nearby.
On Saturday, a bombing in the Shiite slum of Sadr City killed 38 people and wounded 42 as they stocked up on fuel for Ramadan. The group claiming responsibility said it carried out the bombing to avenge a Friday attack by a suspected Shiite death squad on Sunni Arab homes and mosques that killed four people in a mixed Baghdad neighborhood.
In other developments, Iraqi security forces arrested a leader of the al-Ashreen Brigades, a group responsible for attacks and kidnappings, the prime minister's office said. The leader along with seven aides were captured in Kharnabat, a region just north of Baqouba.
The statement did not give the name of the captured leader. The prime minister's office refused to give more information, citing security reasons.
Meanwhile, an Internet statement posted Sunday said the leader of an al-Qaida-linked terror group had not been captured, contradicting an Iraqi government report. Iraq's armed forces announced the arrest Friday of Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri, a senior leader of the Ansar al-Sunnah group, and two of his aides near Muqdadiyah, 55 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The group said Sunday it had killed 10 Pakistani and Indian Shiite Muslims in the western province of Anbar province as they were returning home by way of Syria. It did not give the exact day of the killing, saying only that it was a few days ago.