A suicide bomber has attacked a hotel in downtown Baghdad, causing scores of casualties.
Ambulances sped to the scene of the suicide car bombing outside the Baghdad Hotel, in the heart of the capital.
The hotel is where several U.S. officials, security agents, and members of the Iraqi Governing Council have been staying.
Early Sunday afternoon a car filled with explosives raced toward the hotel's entrance and drew fire from armed guards in front of the hotel.
Residents in the area said they heard two explosions, in rapid succession. Windows were blown out as far as two blocks away. But the car bomber did not reach the hotel, which sits about 60 meters from the main entrance area.
U.S. army helicopters hovered overhead, while dozens of U.S. troops in Humvees and tanks secured a three-block perimeter around the site of the blast.
The hotel is heavily guarded with cement blast walls, barbed wire, armed guards, and U.S. troops who sit above the entranceway of the hotel manning machine guns.
Samir Shattar Mahmud el-Sumaidy, who is one of the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council, spoke with VOA at the hotel just hours before the blast. He said a day does not pass that he does not think about the possibility of being killed. "Every time I actually leave this building, I leave with the knowledge that this could be my last trip. That just outside the building there is somebody waiting to finish me off," he said.
But Mr. el-Sumaidy said he sees no choice but to accept the risk. To do otherwise, he said, would leave Iraq without any hope for a secure and democratic future.
The U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said that despite such attacks the terrorists will not succeed. He said neither the coalition nor the People will be intimidated from the path to a democratic Iraq.
The explosion was the second since Thursday, when 10 people died in a suicide bomber attack on a Baghdad police station.