- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BAGHDAD | A suicide car bomber struck a police crime lab in central Baghdad Tuesday, killing at least 21 people and injuring dozens a day after suicide attacks hit several hotels favored by Western journalists, officials said.

The timing of the blast, a day after Iraq hanged Saddam Hussein’s cousin and stalwart “Chemical Ali,” prompted speculation that the latest attacks were retaliation by Sunni insurgents.

But the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said he saw “absolutely no connection” between the bombings Monday that killed at least 41 people and the execution. The U.S. military did not have any immediate comment on Tuesday’s bombing.

“We didn’t turn Chemical Ali over until yesterday afternoon. … There was no way anybody could have known about that,” Gen. Odierno said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with reporters in his office at Camp Victory, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid was likely to raise tensions ahead of March 7 parliamentary elections between the Shi’ite-led government and minority Sunnis, who are already angered by a candidate blacklist they claim is being used as a political tool to undercut rivals. More than 500 names have been placed on the list for suspected links to Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime.

While there has been no formal claim of responsibility for the attacks at the hotels and against the Ministry of Interior offices, Gen. Odierno said it appeared to be the work of al Qaeda. Multiple bombings are a hallmark of the terror network.

Among those confirmed killed in Tuesday’s attack were 12 police officers and some civilians visiting the office. Officials said more than half the wounded were police.

The office targeted in the attack mainly dealt with data collected during criminal investigations, including fingerprints and other pieces of evidence. It is next to the Interior Ministry’s major crimes office, which deals with terrorism cases.

Meanwhile al-Majid’s family members arrived in Baghdad to collect his body for burial in the family hometown Tikrit later Tuesday, a day after he was hanged for atrocities such as the mass killing of Kurds in a poison gas attack in 1988 and other crimes against humanity.

Local authorities demanded a quick and simple burial without chanting or firing shots in the air as is common in Iraqi funerals, said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media. The time of the burial was not made public.

In the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq, the scene of the 1988 poison gas attack that killed 5,000 people and 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.

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