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Iraq: US restructuring Baath units


By Ravil Musin

TEHERAN, May 5 (Itar-Tass) - Americans are restructuring special paramilitary units of the former Baath Party of Iraq, intending to use them for suppressing possible protest actions of the Iraqi population. The military intelligence of the U.S. Army, FBI and CIA agents are working on the creation of the new special units, the IRNA news agency reported with reference to reliable sources.

The task of the new Iraqi units will be to find out who of the civilians opposes the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as to take part in suppressing anti-American actions in the country. The sources stress that Americans explain the prolongation of their presence in Iraq by a possibility of the resumption of armed actions on the part of the forces, which continue to be loyal to Saddam Hussein.

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and from today's NY Times:

Hussein's Son Took $1 Billion Just Before War, Bank Aide Says

AGHDAD, Iraq, May 5 — In the hours before American bombs began falling on the Iraqi capital, one of President Saddam Hussein's sons and a close adviser carried off nearly $1 billion in cash from the country's Central Bank, according to American and Iraqi officials here.

The removal of the money, which would amount to one of the largest bank robberies in history, was performed under the direct orders of Mr. Hussein, according to an Iraqi official with knowledge of the incident. The official, who asked not to be identified, said that no financial rationale had been offered for removing the money from the bank's vaults, and that no one had been told where the money would be taken.

"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official, who held a senior position in a bank under Mr. Hussein's government. He said he had been told about the seizure of the cash by the Iraqi financial officials who had turned over the money to Mr. Hussein's son and the adviser.

The allegations provide a glimpse into the final days of Mr. Hussein's rule — which, with its emphasis on family connections, has been compared to the mafia — and perhaps a clue about how he intended to finance his escape and survive out of power.

Qusay Saddam Hussein, Mr. Hussein's second son, presided over the seizure of the money, along with Abid al-Hamid Mahmood, the president's personal assistant, the Iraqi official here said. The seizure took place at 4 a.m. on March 18, just hours before the first American air assault.

The two men carried a letter from the president, bearing his signature, authorizing the removal of the money, the official said.

The sheer volume of the cash was so great — some $900 million in American $100 bills and as much as $100 million worth of euros — that three tractor-trailers were needed to cart it off, the Iraqi official said. It took a team of workers two hours to load up the cash. Their work was completed before employees of the downtown Baghdad bank arrived for work.

The seizure of the money was confirmed by a United States Treasury official assigned to work with Iraqi financial officers here to rebuild the country's banking and financial system.

Iraqi officials said they were uncertain of the effects that the disappearance of $1 billion would have on the Iraqi economy. The Iraqi official said the removal of the money amounted to about a quarter of the Central Bank's hard currency reserves.

The billion dollars is nearly twice the amount of hard currency believed to have been looted by Iraqis in the three weeks after the collapse of the Iraqi government. American and Iraqi officials said about $400 million in American dollars and at least $40 million in Iraqi currency were taken by looters from banks across the country after April 9.

The disappearance of such a sizable amount of cash as $1 billion is giving rise to fears here that it is being used to finance remnants of Mr. Hussein's government, many of whose senior members are believed to be hiding in Baghdad or its environs.

Some members of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization for groups that opposed Mr. Hussein, assert that the money may be a central element in what they described as an extensive "post-occupation strategy" devised by Mr. Hussein that envisioned an American takeover of the capital and his eventual return to power.

Neither Iraqi nor American officials claimed to know the whereabouts of the $1 billion or, for that matter, of Saddam Hussein, Qusay Hussein or Mr. Mahmood. All three men are being sought by the United States.

The Iraqi official insisted on anonymity because, he said, he feared that he could fall victim to Mr. Hussein or one of his associates who remain at large.

Some Americans suspect that the money may have been spirited across the border into Syria, in much the same way some senior officials in Mr. Hussein's government are believed to have fled Iraq.

Col. Ted Seel, a United States Army Special Forces officer who said he was aware of the seizure of money from the Central Bank, said intelligence information at the time indicated that a group of tractor-trailers crossed the Iraqi border into Syria. Colonel Seel, who is assigned to the Iraqi National Congress, said the trucks' contents were unknown.

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When someone told me that, I thought they meant cabinets, toilet roll holders, sinks and taps... but then it dawn on me, it was the BAATH PARTY, and not Baths.
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