Baghdad car bomb kills at least 18

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The Independent Online

A suicide car bomber killed at least 18 and injured dozens more today in a strike against a police crime lab in central Baghdad, a day after several hotels were also hit by suicide attacks, officials said.

The 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 yesterday 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, General 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 today during a question-and-answer session with reporters in his office at Camp Victory, the sprawling US 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 today'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 neighbourhood of Karradah. At least 82 people were reported injured.

Police and hospital officials said the bomber in today'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 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.

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.