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Lassoing Saddam's Loot

U.S. authorities have growing confidence that the nearly $1 billion that was ordered removed from Iraq's central bank by Saddam Hussein has been located in various hiding spots around Baghdad, a top Treasury Department official said Thursday.

"We are getting more and more confirmation that the large bulk of those funds have been identified," said Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor.

Meanwhile, American commanders are trying to determine how large a force is needed to create a secure environment for the people of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

In other developments:

  • The United States wants a U.N. vote next week on its plan for postwar Iraq and says it is willing to consider suspending rather than ending sanctions on the country.
  • Heavily armed U.S. Army forces stormed into a village near the northern city and Baath party stronghold of Tikrit before dawn Thursday, seizing more than 260 prisoners. U.S. officials say they include one man on the United States' most-wanted list and a general of Saddam's security forces who had disguised himself as a shepherd.
  • Treasury Secretary John Snow said he would push the world's richest industrial countries, meeting this weekend, to move ahead on dealing with Iraq's large foreign debt burden.
  • American and British intelligence officers are knocking on the doors of top Iraqi scientists and asking whether Saddam's Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
  • The French government has formally complained that the Bush administration is pushing false stories about France in the press, reports The Washington Post, like the one about French officials allegedly providing passports to fugitive Iraqi leaders.
  • U.S. forces in Mosul wounded a looter from a group they said fired on Americans. Rumsfeld denied reports that U.S. forces had orders to shoot looters, saying that the rules all along have authorized whatever use of force was necessary "for self-defense and other selective purposes."

    Saddam loyalists are sabotaging the postwar reconstruction effort, U.S. officials tell the Los Angeles Times. Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said Wednesday the guerilla campaign may keep U.S. troops in Iraq longer than expected.

    The pro-Saddam elements have targeted the electrical system, which the U.S. is trying to restore to jumpstart other reconstruction activities — and to discourage crime by turning streetlights back on.

    Paul Bremer, the new top civilian official in Baghdad, put some of the blame for urban chaos on Saddam's release of 100,000 prisoners from Iraqi jails in the months leading up to the war.

    Saddam's regime also distributed tens of thousands of firearms, ranging from pistols and revolvers to Kalashnikov assault rifles, to close supporters in the run-up to the war.

    Rumsfeld said the 142,000 U.S. troops inside Iraq, plus more than 15,000 additional troops to arrive soon, could not restore order instantly.

    There are 49,000 U.S. troops in and around Baghdad, and they plan to make sure those disrupting the city "are stopped and either captured or killed," Rumsfeld said.

    In their joint bid to run Iraq for at least a year, the U.S., Britain and Spain face resistance from France, Russia and Germany who say they haven't even started to negotiate the U.S. plan for postwar Iraq. China is also skeptical.

    In a visit to Moscow on Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell signaled that the Bush administration was considering a compromise with the Russians on sanctions.

    Russia has supported only a suspension of the economic sanctions. Powell said eliminating them was preferable, "but we will look at the idea of initially suspending sanctions."

    Two key issues for many council members are the limited role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq envisioned in the draft resolution and the powerful role for the United States and Britain as occupying powers.

    Russia's position favoring a prominent role for the United Nations in rebuilding Iraq. During Wednesday's meetings, the United States and its allies hinted at a bigger political role for the world body in forming a new Iraqi government.

    As occupying powers, Washington and London have specific responsibilities to restore and ensure public order, provide food and medicine, and eventually, law enforcement, government services and tax collection.

    But the draft resolution would go much further, authorizing the two countries to run Iraq. It would also dismantle the U.N.-controlled oil-for-food humanitarian program over the next four months and put the coalition in charge of Iraq's oil industry.

    Iraqi bank employees have been quoted as saying that shortly before the start of the U.S. bombing campaign the money was ordered removed from the central bank by Saddam, who sent his younger son Qusai to supervise the loading of the money into three large tractor-trailer trucks.

    "We are making good progress in finding funds and a lot of that is most likely related to what was reported as being taken," Taylor told reporters.

    He said authorities were beginning the process of verifying that the money — estimated to be $850 million in U.S. bills and $100 million in euros — was authentic and not counterfeit.

    Other Treasury officials said that the money had been found in more than 200 boxes in various palaces around Baghdad. The boxes contained certificates describing the contents that employees of Iraq's central bank said they had included in each of the boxes before they were sealed.

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