Ahmed Rushdi, a journalist in Baghdad, said the hotels appeared to be the targets of the blasts.

"These hotels were supposed to have major security because it's open for all the foreign journalists," he told Al Jazeera.

"Targeting these major hotels means that everyone here in Baghdad is targeted."

Infiltration fears

Alaa Makki, an Iraqi member of parliament, told Al Jazeera that legislators have called on Iraqi security forces to do more to fortify the capital.

"We have criticised the security ministry and ministers and the leader of the armed forces in the last session and we were waiting for them to do something about the security situation," he said.

"The area indicates that there might have been infiltration in the security forces, because those areas attacked were so secure and isolated. They were in the secure Green Zone where some TV channels and a hotel with VIPs going regularly are.

"So, there is criticism that there have been infiltrations in the forces, that they are not well-organised and unequipped to control security here."

'Signature of al-Qaeda'

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Saad al-Mutalabi, an adviser to the Iraqi council of ministers, blamed the blasts on al-Qaeda.

"We heard three large explosions in central Baghdad, and it became clear that the bombs targeted three of the large hotels in Baghdad," he told Al Jazeera.

"It may be a signal that al-Qaeda is trying to say that they are against the economic build-up in Iraq because the Iraqi government is keen on expanding the economy this year.

"It is a signature of al-Qaeda. I don't think any of the political forces in Iraq would commit such an atrocity. It would not benefit any of them."

While overall violence in Iraq has dropped sharply following years of sectarian conflict that killed tens of thousands of people, bombings and assassinations still occur on a daily basis.

US and Iraqi officials have said they expect attacks to rise before parliamentary elections scheduled for March 7.

Al-Majid executed

The blasts came on the same day that Ali Hassan al-Majid, the cousin of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was executed in Iraq for crimes against humanity.

The blasts went off near Baghdad's fortified Green Zone [AFP]
Al-Majid, nicknamed "Chemical Ali", was sentenced to death last week for his role in the 1988 massacre of Kurds in Halabja, in which up to 5,000 people were killed.

He was executed by hanging on Monday, a government spokesman said.

Ahmed Chalabi, the former head of Iraq's de-Baathification Commission and current head of the Iraqi Congress Party, said it was not clear if the execution and the bombings were related.

"I cannot speculate on this issue," he told Al Jazeera.

"I believe that the explosions are connected to al-Qaeda in Iraq and I believe that this calls for extra vigilance to eliminate those from any role in the political life in Iraq."

Meanwhile, Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, said the latest bombings "represent an extension" of the activities of fighters linked to Saddam's government.

But he stopped short of calling the blasts a possible revenge attack for the execution, The Associated Press news agency reported.