BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomber struck a police crime lab in central Baghdad Tuesday, killing at least 22 and injuring dozens a day after suicide attacks hit several hotels favored by Western journalists.
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," he 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.
This week's bombings highlight a pattern of increasingly large and well-planned attacks on high-profile targets in the capital. They began with coordinated suicide attacks in August against the Foreign and Finance ministries that killed nearly 100.
Since then, Baghdad has been hit repeatedly with major attacks every few months targeting government offices. On Monday, the targets shifted to hotels frequented by Western journalists and security contractors. Nearly 450 people have been killed in Baghdad since the August strike.
Each wave of attacks has dealt another blow to the Iraqi government before March 7 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is struggling to answer for security lapses.
The execution of Ali Hassan al-Majid was likely to raise pre-election tensions between the Shiite-led government and minority Sunnis, who are already angry over 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, Odierno said it appeared to be the work of al-Qaida.
Rescue crews were combing through the rubble, looking for casualties Tuesday. Officials say the majority of those killed were likely police officers who worked in the forensic investigation office at Tahariyat Square in the central neighborhood of Karradah. At least 82 people were reported injured.