Sunday, May 11, 2003

The State Department claims that Saddam Hussein and his family took about $1 billion from the Iraqi central bank shortly before the start of the U.S. attack on Iraq. One of Saddam's sons, Qusay, together with one of Saddam's assistants, Abid al-Hamid Mahmood, are said to have withdrawn the money using a letter personally signed by Saddam himself. The money is supposed to have been taken before the bank employees came into work, and took up so much space that three or four tractor-trailers were required to move it out of Baghdad. This story sounds like another lie:

  1. The New York Times report cites as its source an unidentified Iraqi senior banking official, which is a pretty weak source for such a story (it reminds me of a Judith Miller story!). 'Treasury Department officials in Baghdad' are supposed to confirm the story, but of course no one has a name. "Residents of the area around the Central Bank in Baghdad told CNN they saw three or four trucks backed up to the bank at that time and that people appeared to be loading money onto the trucks." Remember, this was supposedly done in the middle of the night, so these residents must have insomnia and good vision.

  2. The 'unidentified Iraqi senior banking official' had not seen the withdrawal himself, but "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." He "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."

  3. The Americans had spy planes and satellites all over Iraq. How did they miss a convoy of three or four tractor-trailers moving out of Baghdad? Col. Ted Seel, a United States Army Special Forces officer, said that intelligence information indicated that a group of tractor-trailers had crossed the Iraqi border into Syria, which is a convenient story for the continuing American threats to Syria. However, if these are the right trucks, they should have information on the three or four tractor-trailers leaving Baghdad at the appropriate time and tracking them right into Syria. They have suspiciously vague information at the Syrian end, and, considering the information sources they had, not enough specific information for the trip from Baghdad to Syria.

  4. Qusay is said to have brought the director of the Central Bank, the Iraqi finance minister, and the director of the Iraqi treasury with him to the Central Bank. If Saddam's letter was sufficient for the money to be released, why did Qusay need all these officials? If the money was taken before the employees came into work, and Qusay had all these officials there, why did they need a letter signed by Saddam to withdraw the money? If all these officials were there and at least the finance minister is now in custody, why does the whole story rest on the hearsay testimony of an 'unidentified Iraqi senior banking official' who wasn't even there?

  5. The volume calculations appear to be far off. As great an authority as William Safire, relying on the calculations of Norman Mailer (!), has written that you can fit $1 million in U. S. $100 bills into a briefcase. A billion dollars would thus require 500 briefcases, which would not come close to requiring three tractor trailers. You should be able to fit it in the back of a single cargo van. Of course, smaller denomination bills would take more room, but the Americans are claiming that the American money was in $100 bills, and it is unlikely that the Iraqi central bank was storing its reserves of American dollars in small denominations (the U. S. $100 bill seems to be the universal international standard for storing money safely).

  6. A top Iraqi banker denied that Qusay had taken the money, but claimed that the al-Rafidain bank had been looted by professional thieves.


If someone in the American government wanted to steal $1 billion from the people of Iraq, some story about how Saddam and his sons made off with the money is the perfect cover story. Neither Saddam nor Qusay is around to dispute the story, and the three tractor trailers adds a degree of specificity, not to mention a little romanticism, to the fable of the theft. The money then goes into something like the Pentagon Generals' Retirement Fund, and no one is ever the wiser.

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