Car bombs at Baghdad hotels kill at least nine

Baghdad (AFP) - At least nine people were killed and dozens wounded when car bombs ripped through the car parks of two upscale Baghdad hotels, officials said on Friday.

Militants were able to bring the bombs, which exploded just before midnight (2100 GMT) on Thursday and were heard across the city centre, inside the walled compounds of the Ishtar and Babylon hotels in central Baghdad.

The blast at the Ishtar -- formerly a Sheraton -- shattered windows of the recently renovated hotel, turning rows of expensive cars and SUVs into charred, twisted metal.

The force of the blast turned some cars on their sides, and others were burned, dented or had windows smashed. More than 15 heavily-damaged vehicles still sat in the car park on Friday.

The Ishtar is a popular site for wedding celebrations, and the area -- which also includes a club and the Palestine hotel -- is crowded with people on Thursday nights.

A man named Raad, who was standing near the blast site at the Ishtar, said it was one of the most secure places for both foreigners and Iraqis, but a bombing can happen even here.

"It means there is no security," he said.

Despite the bombing, security at the entrance to the Ishtar compound was still light, and one man told guards that the "same procedures" were in place before and failed to stop the attack.

A second bombing struck the car park at the Babylon, another upmarket and recently refurbished hotel that overlooks the Tigris river.

Police said security forces found another car bomb in the Babylon's car park and defused it.

The Babylon blast left holes in a section of the hotel and shattered its windows. A truck could be seen carrying a burned car out of the car park on Friday, while other damaged vehicles sat inside.

The government lifted a years-old midnight curfew in February after Iraqi forces retook areas around Baghdad from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and a huge car bomb-making cell was dismantled.

Attacks have continued since but are less frequent than in 2014.

IS, which is still battling government forces barely 30 kilometres (18 miles) west of the capital, has claimed many of the biggest attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.

The Babylon and Sheraton were hit in coordinated attacks in January 2010, together with the Hamra, which never reopened.

The attacks five years ago were carried out by suicide bombers and killed at least 36 people. They were claimed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group that later became IS.

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