US Chases Saddam’s Money Trail to Guerrilla War

Some revealing details are now emerging about the $1 billion Great Bank Heist which Saddam Hussein’s henchmen staged at the Iraqi National Bank in Baghdad on March 19, hours before the US “shock and awe” air raids.
For instance, Saddam handwrote his cash demand on a plain sheet of paper and signed it in pencil. That sheet was among the documents US forces found in the deposed ruler’s spider hole, when they captured him on December 12. The stack shed no light on the whereabouts of the ousted ruler’s weapons of mass destruction but, once the simple codes were cracked, they held clues to some of the cash he had socked away and named power of attorney holders through whom he enjoys access to the loot.
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Other documents in the pile, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, lifted the lid off the clandestine workings of the deep-hush 14th Directorate – Office of Special Operations – of the Dawairat al Mukhabarat al-Amah, or Department of General Intelligence. This dread department, known also as N-14, was responsible for running agents on clandestine and sensitive special operations outside the country – particularly assassinations. Its main training facility was located at Salman Pak, 12 miles (19 km) southeast of Baghdad. N-14 orchestrated the failed assassination of former President George Bush during a visit to Kuwait in April 1993.
The long hours its agents invested in acquiring language and orientation skills for blending into the countries of their missions came in useful after the US invasion of Iraq, when they were reassigned new duties as guardians of the deposed dictator’s fortune, trustees for his worldwide financial and business empire with responsibility for remitting profits as directed.
These professional killers pose “behind enemy lines” in smart suits as non-Iraqi businessmen living under the false identities registered in their Saudi, US, British, Syrian or Egyptian passports.
One such Syrian businessman recently turned up at the national bank of Syria with a power of attorney note for $1.1billion of Iraqi funds on deposit there. The note, passed on to the Americans, proved to have been written with the “Saddam pencil.” But the “Syrian businessman”, presumed until then to divide his time between Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva and Damascus, had disappeared.
When asked by the Americans to hand over the cash looted from Iraq, Syria balked, saying: “Saddam is in your custody. We are transferring to you a copy of the power of attorney he gave to the ‘Syrian businessman’, whom we do not know. If you can show us a more recent power of attorney from Saddam Hussein, we can compare signatures and act on your prisoner’s instructions. Without the right documentation, we cannot help you.”
Before converting the old currency with Saddam’s portrait to new dinar notes, Bremer and US calculated some four trillion dinars ($2.85 billion) would be needed for the conversion.
Their estimate was far too modest. The amount Iraqis rushed to trade in had soared to 6.3 trillion dinars, the equivalent of $4.5 billion, by the January 15 deadline for handing in old notes for new. It then turned out that around 40 percent of the cash in circulation in Iraq was in the hands of pro-Saddam elements, specifically N-14 operatives.
US and Iraqi economic planners had taken it for granted that the excess funds had come from dinars ordinary Iraqis had squirreled away. They were wrong. The money had been hoarded in foreign cash – euros, yens and Australian dollars for preference. It surfaced as post-war Iraqis went on spending sprees and began buying American and Japanese cars. Since early May, the keys of more than a million new vehicles, worth more than $5 billion, have been handed to eager customers in the main cities of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Najaf and Karbala. Purchases are mostly made in foreign notes – no bank transactions.
Over the past two months, the dinar has strengthened sharply, gaining more than
30 percent against the dollar as the exchange rate has gone from more than 2,000 to around 1,400.
A senior Iraqi banking official explained the newfound affluence up and down Iraq to DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “The provisional government is committed for the time being to feeding 25 million Iraqis gratis. Saddam’s system of food stamps and virtually free water and fuel goes on uninterrupted by the war. The only thing that has changed is the standard of services and the diversity of consumer products available. This situation clearly cannot go on much longer if the economy is to be rebuilt on a healthy footing.”
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Bremer’s team has concluded that a stable economy and realistic Iraqi exchange rate will remain elusive as long as Saddam’s agents maintain their iron grip on the cash in circulation and the captured dictator continues to control vast investment capital overseas. At the same time, ordinary Iraqis continued to hoard black market foreign currency.
Even if a sovereign government is installed in Baghdad without hitch and a general election goes smoothly, the new regime will have little control over the economy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources have obtained more information expanding on Saddam Hussein’s private currency printing enterprise.
It now appears that rather than running a private mint, Saddam, his sons and the commander of the 14th Directorate enjoyed free access to a sealed annex of the national mint and creamed off supplies for the slush funds of the presidential bureau and secret service chiefs. These sums were never officially recorded or counted in determining Iraq’s gross domestic product. No one but Saddam knows exactly how much was run off in the sealed annex or its destinations. The result was the creation of two Iraqi economies – one official, the other black. Most is believed to have been invested overseas and an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent of the profits returning to Iraq to defray the costs of running a guerrilla war against the US-led coalition. The fighting groups loyal to the deposed dictator appear to command an almost unlimited war chest.
However, five key people are suspected by US investigators of holding short cuts to this information, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources – three in Syria and two in Lebanon. The members of this tight group handled money transfers on behalf of the fugitive Iraqi regime leaders and are the only people who know the identities of the 14th Directorate operatives overseeing Saddam’s financial empire.
The flurry around Saddam’s deposits in Syria and the discovery of the power of attorney in the hands of a “Syrian businessman” have prompted Saddam’s eldest daughter Raghed Kamal to change her plans. On January 16, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 141 reported her request to relocate from Amman to Paris and re-establish the Iraqi Baath party. Now Saddam’s daughter has applied for permission to move to Damascus instead of the French capital.

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