Coordinated bombs strike Baghdad hotels


A series of bombs targeting at least three hotels rocked Baghdad Monday afternoon, in the latest of four large-scale bombing attacks carried out since the summer and ahead of March parliamentary elections. The most recent attacks in Baghdad targeted prominent hotels popular with the press and businessmen.

It wasn’t clear how extensive the three facilities were damaged, though at least one hotel complex, popular with the foreign press, sustained significant damage. The Ministry of Interior said early Monday evening that 36 people were killed and 70 injured. The death toll continues to climb as rescue operations proceed.

The blasts began around 3:00 pm and continued for at least a half hour. They are the latest in a series of coordinated bombings that have rattled the city ahead of March elections. Blasts in August, October, and December targeting high-profile institutions, including prominent government ministries and offices, have killed hundreds.

The explosions have shaken Iraq’s security services and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who had made security improvements a centerpiece of his campaign for a slate of candidates he leads seeking seats in parliament. The elections have been blighted by controversy — first, a postponement of the vote from January to March because of a protracted squabble in parliament about minority representation. Then, a government committee announcing this month the disqualification of more than 500 candidates, accusing them of connections to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. The candidate purge triggered accusations from Sunni politicians that Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government and other Shiite parties were attempting to disenfranchise heavyweight competitors to Mr. Maliki’s slate.

The government has denied the allegations, and the committee has said it was only following the law in banning the candidates. Amid the outcry over the disqualifications, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said late last week that he would ask the country’s judiciary to verify the authority of the panel.

The latest bombings follow a weekend visit by US Vice President Joseph Biden, who flew to Baghdad amid growing American concern over the election disqualifications and the uproar it was causing. Shortly after the hotel attacks, the government announced the execution of Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid. Mr. Majid, known as “Chemical Ali,” was found guilty, among other charges, of involvement in a poison-gas attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja during Mr. Hussein’s reign. He was sentenced over the weekend, the latest of four death sentences he received in separate cases. There wasn’t any immediate indication of a link between the execution and the attack, but Mr. Maliki’s government has blamed loyalists of Mr. Hussein and his Baath Party for previous attacks.

The damage at one of the targeted hotels, the al-Hamra, was significant, and included extensive damage to nearby buildings. According to eyewitnesses, gunmen in a minivan opened fire on the hotel’s security staff before breaking through at least one checkpoint. The vehicle detonated shortly after.

The al-Hamra is popular among Western media outlets. The Associated Press reported smoke rising from the parking lot of the Sheraton hotel. Another hotel, the Babylon, popular with visiting businessmen, was also targeted in the attack.