Explosions Rock Baghdad Hotels

Coordinated attacks on three hotels compounds killed dozens of people in Baghdad Monday. The Sheraton, Babylon and Hamra hotels were targeted in the attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers. NPR's bureau is located in the Hamra hotel.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's what we know about a series of explosions in Baghdad today. Gunmen and suicide bombers targeted three well-known hotels. At least 30 people were killed. Dozens more were wounded. One of the hotels is called the Hamra. NPR's office is located in that hotel compound. And it is from there, we're joined by correspondent Quil Lawrence.

Quil, what happened?

QUIL LAWRENCE: Well, three bombs, all within about six or eight minutes of each other, ripped through Baghdad late afternoon, local time. The most information we have is from the Hamra Hotel compound bombing, which as you say is very near the NPR office. And there, insurgents rushed the perimeter security checkpoint, and then managed to get a probably a small minivan or a small bus bomb inside.

The explosion left a crater that's about six yards across and over six feet deep. It shattered the houses nearby. Rescue workers are on the scene now. This - shattered windows for probably a quarter mile in distance. The other bombs hit other well-known hotels: The Babylon Hotel, which is near the river, and the Sheraton Hotel compound, which has been of course several times over the years.

INSKEEP: And we should observe - it's well-known that all of those hotels have been used for several years by Western journalists. There wasn't very much doubt about who the targets were here.

LAWRENCE: Yes. With the exception of the Babylon Hotel, which has mostly Arab and Iraqi customers, those two hotels have long been obvious symbols that it's known that there are Westerners, either security companies or journalists, working and living out of there. These bombs all come in a string of high-profile bombings. There have been less daily big bombs in Iraq, but this would be the fourth high-profile attack that government sources here say they think is designed to destroy people's confidence in the government's ability to provide security.

INSKEEP: Don't these attacks come during a period, the last year or two, in which a lot of the giant concrete barriers and security checkpoints and other extreme security measures that have been necessary in Baghdad have actually been coming down?

LAWRENCE: Yes. While the promises of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister's government here, was to open up Baghdad - and indeed, he'd done that to some extent, Iraqis were really taking back their own streets. But some of these thoroughfares, they started taking down some of the blast walls and then they stopped with the big bomb that came in August. Another bomb came in October. The most recent one before this was December 8, massive bombs that targeted government buildings. This one is targeting symbols of foreigners who still have a presence in Iraq.

INSKEEP: Do you ever find out who's behind these attacks?

LAWRENCE: Sometimes, al-Qaida in Iraq claims responsibility. The government has been blaming former Baath regime elements. They're often attributed to political reasons for these attacks. And recently we've had a lot of controversy over whether some Sunni Arab candidates, prominent candidates, might be banned from the election. There were some hints that there might be violence, but it's too early to say whether this has a direct relationship to that controversy, or it's just part of this slow campaign, which really has gotten under people's skin in Baghdad.

It's taken away that sense of calm. People had it was growing after the security gains. But these bombs come, sort of, every other month, and I've really noticed how people are on the edge here in the capital.

INSKEEP: Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And be safe. That's NPR's Quil Lawrence in Baghdad, where a series of explosions and gunfire attacks on three hotels today killed more than 30 people and injured dozens.

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