BAGHDAD and LONDON Jan. 25, 2009 -- Three powerful car bombs shook Baghdad today, targeting hotels frequented by Westerners and businessmen.
The death toll from the blasts currently stands at 36 dead and over 70 wounded and is expected to rise, according to Iraqi police.
The coordinated attacks began with an explosion at the compound which houses both the Ishtar Sheraton and the Palestine hotels at around 3:40 this afternoon, Baghdad time.
This was swiftly followed by explosions at the Babylon and al Hamra hotels. The Babylon is a popular haunt for Iraqi businessmen while the al Hamra has been home to many Western journalists since the Iraq invasion in 2003.
A police source told ABC News that armed men attacked the guards at the main gate of the al Hamra hotel. Once the guards were disabled a minivan laden with explosives was driven inside the complex and then detonated.
The explosion struck the garage of the al-Hamra hotel complex, which also includes four smaller hotels, and and undisclosed number of bodies were left scattered in the area, according to the source.
One Western reporter said the hotel had sustained heavy damage, and the Washington Post said three of its Iraqi employees were wounded.
The al Hamra hotel was previously hit when two suicide truck bombs were detonated in November 2005.
Buildings near the Ishtar Sheraton shook from the force of the blast, and television pictures showed cars parked nearby in a shattered and burned state. Rescue workers stepped over the blast walls that lay splayed around the hotel precincts and struggled through the debris to reach the wounded.
'Chemical Ali' Executed
Just after the explosions occurred the state news channel al Iraqiya announced that Saddam Hussein's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as "Chemical Ali," had been executed. Majeed was sentenced for crimes against humanity, most notably for his role in the gassing of Kurds in 1988, in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja.
"The death sentence against Ali Hassan al-Majeed has been carried out today," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
According to al Dabbagh Majeed was hanged in the appropriate manner, "Everyone abided by the government's instructions and the convicted was not subjected to any breach, chanting, abuse words, or insults," he said.
That was distinctly different from the execution of former dictator Saddam Hussein, who was taunted by his guards as his head was placed inside the noose.
The last major attack on Baghdad occurred on Dec. 8, when a series of car bombs killed more than 100 people. An estimated 250 people were killed in suicide assaults on government buildings in separate attacks on Oct. 25 and Aug. 19.
Iraq is heading into a highly charged election on March 7.
Reuters contributed to this report.