A car filled with explosives blew up in front of a Shi?ite Mosque in Baghdad Friday, killing at least 14 worshippers and wounding more than 40 others.  Sectarian tension between Shi?ite and Sunni Muslims has been rising steadily ahead of Iraqi elections.

The car bomb exploded outside the green domed al-Taf mosque in southwest Baghdad, as Shi?ite worshippers were leaving after prayers.

The police say several children were among the more than a dozen people killed in the blast.

The bombing took place on the first day Shi?ite Muslims in Iraq began celebrating Eid-al-Adha, one of Islam's most important holidays.  Sunni Muslims here started their celebrations a day earlier.

The split between Shi?ites and Sunnis dates back centuries and centers on a disagreement over the rightful successor to the prophet Mohammed after his death in 632.

Sectarian tension between Islam's two branches in Iraq has been rising in recent weeks in anticipation of an overwhelming win by the majority Iraqi Shi?ites at the polls.  Shi?ites make up about 60 percent of the country's 26 million people.

Iraqi Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of the population, but have long been the ruling elite for most of the country's modern history.  Fearing a decisive Shi?ite victory, Sunni Arab militants have vowed to stop the elections.

In addition to numerous attacks on candidates and electoral workers, militants have launched a string of sectarian motivated attacks in the past month, targeting Shi?ite mosques, political and religious leaders and party headquarters.

Militants have also disrupted election preparations in several Sunni-dominated provinces.  Some moderate Sunni Muslim leaders, who say voter intimidation in Sunni areas will not permit a fair vote, have called for a delay in voting until the security situation improves.   

The Bush administration and Iraq's interim government have ruled out a postponement, arguing that a delay would only hand a victory to the insurgents.

The attacks have stoked fears the country could slide into civil war.  But Shi?ite leaders have downplayed the threat, promising that the new government will include its fair share of Sunni representatives.