U.S. forces try to cut off ter­ror­ists’ cash flow into Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The U.S. mil­i­tary is not only try­ing to stop ter­ror­ists and arms from leak­ing into Iraq from Syria and Iran but also an­other just as dan­ger­ous com­mod­ity — cash.

It’s the lifeblood of the en­emy — whether they be al Qaeda ter­ror­ists, death squads or Sun­nis try­ing to evict Amer­i­can forces and bring back dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein — and U.S. raiders have seized mil­lions of dol­lars in cash dur­ing the con­flict.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials point to Syria and its se­cre­tive bank­ing sys­tem as the main source of Sunni walk­ing-around money, while Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard fun­nels money to Shi’ite mili­tias, such as cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The en­emy’s money be­gan flow­ing into Iraq with the start of the in­sur­gency in the sum­mer of 2003, and the ship­ments are still com­ing in.

“There are bil­lions com­ing in,” said Daniel Galling­ton, a for­mer aide to De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld. “The Mid­dle East is the cen­ter of graft and cor­rup­tion in the uni­verse. It re­ally al­ways has been. The fight in Iraq is about who con­trols what area is re­ally all about who con­trols the money.”

Money, of course, is just as es­sen­tial to the in­sur­gents as bud­get dol­lars are to the Amer­i­can armed forces. Ter­ror­ists need it to buy loy­alty from lo­cal vil­lagers, bomb-mak­ing gear, ve­hi­cles and elec­tron­ics to com­mu­ni­cate and to det­o­nate im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices (IEDs).

Per­haps the most im­por­tant ex­pen­di­ture is salaries: Sun­nis have en­listed thou­sands of dis­af­fected youths, some en­joy­ing their first pay­days ever, by giv­ing them cash to at­tack Amer­i­cans, plant IEDs and run mes­sages from one leader to an­other, say de­fense sources and of­fi­cers who served in Iraq.

“The av­er­age IED is an at­tack form car­ried out by peo­ple that are re­ally not ide­o­log­i­cally com­mit­ted,” Gen. John Abizaid, who heads U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, told a group of re­porters. “They get paid, and they’re get­ting paid be­cause they don’t have any money and they’re get­ting paid be­cause they’ve got peo­ple [who] are gen­er­ally mem­bers of the old army that don’t have work.”

Army Maj. Gen. William Cald­well, the chief mil­i­tary spokesman in Bagh­dad, gave a glimpse of the money trail ear­lier in Oc­to­ber when de­scrib­ing a raid in Tikrit, Sad­dam’s home­town. Raiders hit a num­ber of busi­nesses in the city, seiz­ing mil­lions of dol­lars that had come in from Syria.

“Th­ese funds, es­ti­mated to be in the mil­lions of dol­lars per week, were used to fi­nance in- sur­gent op­er­a­tions, to in­clude at­tacks against Iraqi civil­ians, as well as Iraqi and coali­tion se­cu­rity forces,” Gen. Cald­well said.

Al­though the raid was de­signed to block the cash flow, de­fense sources say there is more where that came from.

Re­tired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, the for­mer deputy com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, said lit­er­ally tons of cash moved from Bagh­dad into Syria as the U.S. in­va­sion neared in March 2003. That money is now go­ing full cir­cle to feed the Sunni in­sur­gency.

“We watched car­a­vans go­ing into Syria,” Gen. DeLong said. “They took their money; their jew­els. They took ev­ery­thing.” But not all the cash got out. “We found U.S. money all through the cap­i­tal,” Gen. DeLong said. “Sad­dam and the Ba’ath Party had caches of U.S. money stashed ev­ery­where. One day, one guy found $10 mil­lion in cash.”

The Ba’ath Party had built up huge cash stocks via the United Na­tions oil-for-food pro­gram, mostly from il­licit sale of goods and oil. The U.S. mil­i­tary seized $926 mil­lion from the Iraq regime as of the sum­mer of 2004, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the spe­cial in­spec­tor gen­eral for Iraq re­con­struc­tion.

AP

Ju­bi­lant Iraqis carry a flag of the Iraqi mili­tia Mahdi Army and a na­tional flag af­ter U.S. troops dis­man­tled check­points around Bagh­dad’s Shi’ite en­clave of Sadr City on Oct. 31. Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki or­dered the lift­ing of joint U.S.-Iraqi mil­i­tary check­points around the Shi’ite mil­i­tant strong­hold of Sadr City and other parts of Bagh­dad.

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