BAGHDAD  - Twin suicide bombings killed 31 people after midday prayers at a Shia centre in Baghdad on Tuesday, the latest in violence sparking fears of a revival of full-blown sectarian bloodshed.

Several students from an adjacent university were among the dead, with dozens of others wounded, while security forces shut down the neighbourhood to vehicle traffic and sought to defuse a suspected car bomb nearby.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. Tuesday’s attacks struck at the Habib ibn al-Mudhaher husseiniyah, or Shia hall, in north Baghdad. It lies next to the Imam al-Sadiq university, a private teaching institution.

Many victims were university students who were taking a break from studying for their exams to pray. “What sins did these innocent students commit?” asked Mustafa Kamil, a student who was about to leave the site of the attacks to visit the morgue to help identify the dead.

“They gathered here for prayer. Does any religion accept killing innocent human beings?” the 20-year-old continued, his eyes red from crying. “A few minutes ago, I was standing with my friend, and he asked me to go pray together. But I told him I wanted to study some more, to be ready for our exams.

According to witnesses and officials, the bombers, who were dressed in suits, began by gunning down the building’s guard, followed by the first attacker blowing himself up at the entrance to the hall.

The second militant took advantage of the ensuing chaos and ran through the crowd before setting off his explosives inside the husseiniyah itself. Soldiers standing guard at the scene said the inside of the building was covered in blood, with the walls and ceiling badly damaged by ball bearings, used by the suicide bombers to maximise the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, bombings elsewhere in Baghdad and north of the capital in Salaheddin province killed two people and wounded six.

There has been a heightened level of unrest since the beginning of the year in Iraq, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.

Meanwhile, UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for the end of the threat of sanctions against Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait amid a significant thaw between the neighbors.

Ban said both governments have shown “statesmanship and respect” in healing the scars of the invasion that led to the creation of an international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces.

“The command ground attained by Iraq and Kuwait regarding the issues of missing Kuwaiti persons and property is a significant achievement, signalling a new level of trust and a fresh chapter in the relations between the two neighboring countries,” Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council.

He called on the 15-nation council to lift the threat of sanctions or force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The council is to discuss the Iraq-Kuwait regime next week.

Iraq has so far paid about $30 billion of the $41 billion in war reparations it was ordered to hand over for the seven month occupation which ended in 1991. Iraq hopes to complete the payments in 2015.

Regular flights between Baghdad and Kuwait started this year and Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah went on a surprise one day visit to Baghdad last week in a key sign of the thaw.

Kuwait is maintaining demands that Iraq account for more than 600 Kuwaitis who went missing in the conflict. The remains of 236 have so far been found. It is also demanding efforts by Iraq to return national treasures and archives.

But the Kuwaiti government has agreed to an end to the UN sanctions threat ordered in Security Council resolution 661 passed in 1990.

Ban said the unsolved cases of missing people “continue to cause suffering to the bereaved families.” But he added that Iraq has shown “commendable commitment” to resolving the cases.

“Should the Security Council agree with my recommendations, Iraq will exit Chapter VII with regard to this file and and will be one step closer to restoring its standing priority to resolution 661.”

Saba Khalid al Hamad as-Sabah, Kuwait’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, supported Ban’s call in a letter to the United Nations.

Under Ban’s plan, a high level coordinator who has been bringing together the two countries would stop work and the duties on the hunt for the missing persons and archives would pass to the UN mission in Iraq.