Deadly Blasts Rock Baghdad; “Chemical Ali” Hanged

The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD – Suicide bombers struck near three hotels popular with Western journalists and businessmen Monday just as Iraq announced the execution of Saddam Hussein’s notorious cousin known as “Chemical Ali.” At least 36 people were killed and more than 80 injured, security officials said.

Iraqi police secure the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010. Three parked car bombs struck near three Baghdad hotels popular with Western journalists and businessmen. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

The blasts — coming in a span of about 15 minutes in downtown Baghdad — came shortly before state television announced that Ali Hassan al-Majid had been hanged.

There was no claim of responsibility for the latest major attacks in Baghdad — about six weeks after a series of blasts killed 127 and brought outcry against Iraq’s government for repeated security lapses as U.S. troops withdraw.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the latest bombings “represent an extension” of the activities of insurgents linked to Saddam’s regime. But he stopped short of declaring the blast as possible revenge for the execution.

The first explosion struck at about 3:40 p.m. in the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel, toppling high concrete blast walls protecting the site and damaging a number of buildings along the Abu Nawas esplanade across the Tigris River from the Green Zone.

Two other blasts followed minutes later, striking near the Babylon Hotel and al-Hamra Hotel, which is popular with Western journalists and foreign security contractors.

The officials said the death toll was expected to rise. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

According to initial tallies, 15 of the victims were at the al-Hamra, 14 at the Sheraton, and the remaining seven died at the Babylon, including two policemen.

Outside the Sheraton, a high-rise tower with views of the Tigris River and the fortified Green Zone on the other side, the blast left a 10-foot-deep crater in the parking lot. Cars were torn apart by the spray of metal and glass, which littered the lawns and courtyards of the popular fish restaurants along the river.

The force of the explosion was strong enough to topple a row of 10-foot (three-meter) concrete blast walls along the road.

Iraqi police sealed the area and Iraqi helicopters circled overhead.

At the al-Hamra, two men in a car opened fire on guards at the hotel checkpoint before detonating the explosives, a third police official said.

Baghdad’s top military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said suicide bombers were involved in all three attacks.

The government spokesman al-Dabbagh confirmed the execution of “Chemical Ali,” but did not give other details or the precise timing of when it was carried out.

The execution took place about a week after he was sentenced to death for the poison gas attacks that killed more than 5,000 Kurds in the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988.

It was the fourth death sentence against him for crimes against humanity during the Saddam era.

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Deadly Blasts Rock Baghdad; “Chemical Ali” Hanged