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Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Experts try to calculate purpose of stolen money

May 7, 2003

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— The $1 billion that Saddam Hussein's family reportedly spirited from Iraq's central bank on the eve of war would be enough to underwrite a campaign of harassment against the country's new government for years, U.S. and Iraqi experts said Tuesday.

The money was taken by Saddam's family on March 18, according to U.S. officials.

U.S. Treasury officials in Iraq are now trying to determine whether the cash removed from the central bank is the same as the neatly wrapped greenbacks recovered by U.S. troops in various locations around central Iraq. Military personnel have found $650 million in a palace, $100 million in an armored car, and other bundles of bills in cinder-block storage sheds.

But if it is not the same, $1 billion could help Saddam's family and inner circle finance an effort to foment opposition in the hopes of destabilizing Iraq, experts said. Some former exiles and Iraqi opposition groups are concerned that Saddam's inner circle, and perhaps his family, are behind rioting and violence in the city of Fallujah and other Sunni Muslim areas of central Iraq.

"If he's alive and hiding someplace, this money could help," said Judith Kipper, a Middle East specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

A former governor of Iraq's central bank, Salah Al-Shaikhly, said in an interview Tuesday that he saw four possible uses for the cash: to help Saddam and his family "weather the storm" of a U.S. military offensive, to pay bribes and other costs to secure safe passage out of the country, to underwrite anti-U.S. terrorist activities, or to "finance a comeback."

No matter what Saddam and his family intended, the loss of the money was huge, measured by the needs of the Iraqi people. Although one of the wealthiest countries in the region because of its oil reserves, Iraq has a gross domestic product of about $28 billion. The U.S. gross domestic product, by contrast, is about $10.5 trillion.

U.S. officials said that while some details of the bank withdrawal are still unclear, they believed that Saddam's second son, Qusay, was part of the effort. Saddam ran the country as a private fiefdom, and it probably would have been easy for family members or top aides to convince bank officials to give up the money, one U.S. official said.

Iraqis living nearby told CNN that they saw three or four trucks backed up to the bank at the time, and said workers appeared to be loading cash onto the trucks.

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