Officials concerned insurgents could stage high-profile attacks to disrupt national parliamentary elections scheduled for March 7
Three large explosions ripped through Baghdad Monday, killing at least 36 people and wounding more than 70 others. In the midst of the chaos, the Iraqi government announced the execution of "Chemical Ali" one of Saddam Hussein's most notorious lieutenants.
The series of explosions hit the center of the capital in mid-afternoon. Iraqi officials said car bombs were detonated outside the Babylon, Ishtar Sheraton, and al-Hamra hotels. The buildings house foreign aid and news organizations and are frequented by government officials.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Lawmaker and national security advisor Moafak al Robaie said they bore the hallmarks of the al-Qaida offshoot in Iraq.
Al Robaei told al-Arabia television that the bombers targeted civilian areas to show the government is weak and incapable of protecting the public. He also conceded the attacks showed a clear defect in national security.
The explosions were similar to other major security lapses in Baghdad in the past six months. In August, October and December, bombers managed to pass through numerous checkpoints and set off coordinated attacks that killed hundreds of people.
Iraqi and western security officials have warned that militants might step up their attacks ahead of parliamentary elections planned for March.
There are also tensions over efforts to ban some 500 candidates from the election, most of them Sunnis, although it was reported Monday that 50 of those placed on a list will now be allowed to take part.
In another development Monday, the government said it had put to death Ali Hassan al-Majid. Also known as "Chemical Ali," al-Majid was a military and intelligence chief under the government of his cousin Saddam Hussein and led numerous brutal campaigns against domestic opponents.
He earned his grim nickname for the use of poison gas during an attack against the residents of Halabja in Kurdish northern Iraq in 1988.
The Iraqi judiciary had sentenced him to death four times, the last time earlier this month. In addition to the crimes against the Kurds, he was found guilty of repression campaigns against Iraqi Shi'ites.