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Car bomb hits central Baghdad, killing at least 18

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[January 26, 2010]  BAGHDAD (AP) -- A suicide car bomber killed at least 18 and injured dozens more Tuesday in a strike against a police crime lab in central Baghdad, a day after several hotels were also hit by suicide attacks, officials said.

THardwarehe latest blast came as family members of the Saddam Hussein stalwart known as "Chemical Ali" arrived in Baghdad to collect his body for an afternoon burial. Ali Hassan al-Majid was hanged Monday after a series of convictions for atrocities that included mass killings and crimes against humanity.

This week's bombings -- all against prominent and heavily fortified targets -- dealt yet another blow to the image of an Iraqi government struggling to answer for security lapses that have allowed bombers to carry out a number of massive attacks in the heart of the capital since August.


The timing of this week's deadly bombings have prompted speculation among some Iraqis that the attacks were retaliation for the death sentence. But the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, dismissed those claims, saying there was "absolutely no connection" between the attacks and the execution.

"We didn't turn Chemical Ali over until yesterday afternoon. ... There was no way anybody could have known about that," Odierno told reporters Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with reporters in his office at Camp Victory, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters on the outskirts of Baghdad.

In Halabja, the scene of a 1988 poison gas attack that cemented Chemical Ali's infamy, more than 400 Kurdish government officials and families who lost loved ones in the gassing defied the January chill to gather in a cemetery and at a monument to the victims of the attack.

"I am wondering which of my family's graves I would visit first to tell them about the death of Chemical Ali so they can sleep in peace," said Parvin Kamal Jalal, a 53-year-old woman who said she lost her parents and 12 other family members in the attack.

Rescue crews are still combing through the rubble looking for casualties of Tuesday's bombing. Officials say the majority of those killed were likely police officers who worked in the forensic investigation office at Tahariyat Square in the central neighborhood of Karradah. At least 82 people were reported injured.

Police and hospital officials said the bomber in Tuesday's attack tried to drive a pickup truck through a checkpoint and blast walls protecting the forensic evidence office.

Among those confirmed killed were 12 police officers and six civilians who were visiting the office. Officials said more than half the wounded were police.

Rescue teams in blue jumpsuits combed through the debris of the partially damaged three-story building shortly after the blast as a crane removed some of the 10-foot, 7-ton concert blast walls toppled by the explosion.

The office targeted in the attack mainly deals with data collected during criminal investigations, including fingerprints and other pieces of evidence. The office is located next to the Interior Ministry's major crimes office, which deals with terrorism cases.

Government offices have been frequent targets of major attacks in the capital since blasts struck the foreign and finance ministries in August, raising questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to keep the country safe. While the criminal evidence offices have not been targeted by a major suicide bombing before, attackers have struck nearby.

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The attack destroyed rooms on the ground floor of the building and damaged parts of the second floor. The office is surrounded by low-rise buildings that contain shops, takeaway restaurants and offices that were also damaged.

Tuesday's attack came one day after a series of bombings targeting hotels favored by foreigners. The toll from those blasts continued to rise, with 41 people confirmed killed and up to 106 reported injured, police and health officials said Tuesday.

The bombings Monday targeted the Sheraton Ishtar Hotel, Babylon Hotel and Hamra Hotel, which are popular with Western journalists and foreign security contractors.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill issued a statement Tuesday strongly condemning the attacks against the hotels.

"The terrorists who committed these senseless crimes aim to sow fear among the Iraqi people," he said. "We call upon all Iraqis to unite in combating all forms of violence and attempts at intimidation."

While there has been no formal claim of responsibility for the attacks at the hotels and against the Ministry of Interior offices, Odierno said it appeared to be the work of al-Qaida.

Multiple bombings are a hallmark of the terror network.

Odierno said al-Qaida in Iraq had morphed into a covert operation made up predominantly of Iraqis rather than foreign fighters who once operated in the open.

The typical al-Qaida operative in Iraq, Odierno said, is "university trained," with degrees in business administration, engineering and law. Others, he said, were associated with the "old Iraqi security architecture" under Saddam Hussein.

[Associated Press; By ADAM SCHRECK]

Associated Press writers Hamid Ahmed, Chelsea J. Carter and Sinan Salaheddin contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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