A suicide bomber has penetrated intense security around a major Baghdad hotel, detonating his explosives in the lobby and killing at least a dozen people. Meanwhile, to the northeast of the capital, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces continue an offensive to expel al-Qaida militants. From Baghdad, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.
Witnesses say a man wearing an explosives belt entered the busy lobby of the Mansour hotel in central Baghdad around noon on Monday. As he approached the reception desk he detonated his explosives.
An informal meeting of local Sunni tribal sheikhs was taking place at the hotel, which is also the headquarters of several western media organizations and houses the Chinese Embassy. Several of the tribal leaders were reported among the dead.
The attack was the fifth in a string of suicide and other bombings Monday, from Mosul and Beiji in the north to Hilla in the south. Dozens of people were killed and injured in those attacks.
Meanwhile, in the restive Diyala province, U.S. and Iraqi troops entered the seventh day of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, aimed at rooting out al-Qaida militants who have migrated there as security increases in the Baghdad area.
Brigadier General John Bednarek told reporters in Baghdad via a video link from Diyala that the joint operation is making progress in eliminating al-Qaida.
"We have killed a heck of a lot of al-Qaida, probably somewhere less than a hundred of hardcore fighters here in western Baquba," he said. "We have detained about as many, perhaps a little bit less than a hundred."
The general said local citizens have provided intelligence that has led to the discovery of many weapons caches and the detention of 70 individuals. He says it has also led to grim discoveries.
"Torture chambers -- houses; implements of violence from knives, saws, blood trails; shallow graves of local nationals buried in the back courtyards of houses, that otherwise it would have taken us much longer to uncover," he said.
He says in just under a week, security in Baquba has improved to the point where normal life is beginning to resume.
Military officials say they expect the Baquba operation to take up to two months.