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Saddam Set Bank Heist Record: Report

Saddam Hussein ordered that nearly $1 billion be taken from Iraq's Central Bank shortly before the United States began bombing Baghdad, and sent his son Qusai to grab the cash in the middle of the night, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

The amount of money — some $900 million in U.S. $100 bills and $100 million in euros — was so large it had to be taken from the bank in three tractor-trailers, The New York Times reported.

Qusai, Saddam's younger son, and Abid al-Haimd Mahmood, Saddam's personal assistant, organized the removal of the cash, the Times report said, quoting an Iraqi banking official who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from Saddam's Baath Party.

No financial rationale was offered to bank officials for the removal of the money, which would amount to one of the largest bank robberies in history, and none was needed.

"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official.

In other developments:

  • U.S. officials are now confident they have confirmed at least one of the claims Secretary of State Colin Powell made to the U.N. about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It's a van found in northern Iraq which closely resembles drawings Powell presented to the U.N. and which Iraqi scientists said was part of a mobile biological weapons lab. But it was washed down with a caustic cleaner, so there were no traces of biological material.
  • The U.S. still has not found any chemical or biological agents and some officials are starting to suggest there might not be any, just the equipment needed to manufacture them, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin.
  • The latest pickup in the deck of 55 most wanted former Iraqi leaders could help that search. She is Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a microbiologist known to U.S. officials as "Mrs. Anthrax" for her suspected involvement in Iraq's biological weapons program.
  • The American civil administrator in Iraq says the nucleus of an Iraqi government should be in place within two weeks. Retired Lt. Gen Jay Garner said an Iraqi leadership council with up to nine members will be formed by mid-May.
  • In the city of Mosul, rival groups chose a mayor and a city council in Iraq's first free elections.
  • Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, asked the U.S. to let him investigate reports of looting at Iraqi nuclear sites. U.S. officials have not yet responded to the request.

    The bank operation, which the Iraqi official said took place at 4 a.m. on March 18, was confirmed by U.S. Treasury official George Mullinax, who is assigned to help rebuild Iraq's banking system. Mullinax told the Times that about $900 million was taken by "Saddam Hussein's people."

    It was not known where the money was taken. The Iraqi official said it amounted to a quarter of the Central Bank's hard currency reserves.

    A U.S. Army Special Forces officer, Col. Ted Seel, said intelligence indicated that a convoy of tractor-trailers crossed the border into Syria, but that the contents of the trucks was unknown, the Times report said.

    Mullinax told the newspaper it was possible that much of the money had already been recovered. He said the roughly $650 million found by U.S. forces in one of Saddam's palaces last month might have been from the Central Bank.

    The Iraqi official, however, felt the money found in the palace did not come from that Central Bank raid but belonged to Saddam's oldest son Odai, whom he said was known for hoarding large sums of cash.

    The newspaper said the billion dollars taken by Saddam was nearly twice the amount looted by Iraqis from the bank after the April 9 collapse of Saddam's regime.

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