A massive car bomb has destroyed a large hotel in central Baghdad, killing at least 28 people and wounding dozens of others.
U.S. Colonel Ralph Baker says the bomb contained about 450 kilograms of explosives. He says the attack fit the profile of attacks carried out by Muslim militant groups.
The blast destroyed the Mount Lebanon hotel, which is frequented by Iraqis and other Arabs. Some reports say Westerners were also staying at the hotel. The blast also damaged several neighboring buildings.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney blamed the blast on "thugs and assassins" and vowed they will fail in preventing the rise of democracy in Iraq.
The Wednesday attack came three days before the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It also coincided with a new U.S. operation to combat anti-coalition insurgents in Baghdad, which began with a raid on a sprawling market (in al-Bayaa district).
Also Wednesday, Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council said it plans to ask the United Nations to return to Baghdad to advise the country on its transition to self-rule and preparations for elections.
Shi'ite Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says the Council will send a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking him to send a team of experts to provide advice ahead of the planned June 30th transfer of power from U.S. occupation authorities.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.