BAGHDAD – Three car bombs exploded Monday near three Baghdad hotels popular with Western journalists and businessmen, killing at least 39 people and wounding at least 79 more, sources told Fox News.
The first explosion struck at about 3:40 p.m. in the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel, toppling high concrete blast walls protecting the site and damaging a number of buildings along the Abu Nawas esplanade across the Tigris River from the Green Zone, two Iraqi police officials said.
Two other blasts followed minutes later, striking near the Babylon Hotel and al-Hamra Hotel, which is popular with Western journalists.
The Iraqi army was trying to remove families trapped inside nearby houses and to extract injured people from the second floor of the Hotel.
The officials said the death toll was expected to rise. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The blasts come about a month a half after a series of five blasts struck Baghdad, killing 127 people and injuring more than 500. The Dec. 8 attacks — which included homicide bombings outside a court complex and the Finance Ministry — brought a wave of outrage from parliament members and others for security lapses in the capital.
Multiple blasts in August and October also targeted government buildings, killing more than 255 people.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed those attacks on groups loyal to Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath Party.
Earlier Monday, an Iraqi security official defended a bomb-detecting device that Britain banned for export to Iraq because of questions about whether it works, saying it would be a "big mistake" to withdraw it from checkpoints.
The ADE651, made by the British company ATSC, is used at security points across Iraq, including outside the protected Green Zone that includes the Iraqi parliament and the U.S. and British embassies. Britain halted the export of the machine to Iraq and Afghanistan after a BBC report challenged its effectiveness.
But Col. Hato al-Hashemi, a senior explosives expert at the Interior Ministry, said the estimated 2,000 devices used by Iraqi security forces would not be taken out of service.
"We have great confidence in this device," al-Hashemi said. "They have proven their effectiveness in discovering and seizing many car bombs and cars that were loaded with explosives and weapons."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.