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Kennels Hold More Stray Cash
BAGHDAD -- A team of Army civil affairs soldiers Tuesday found $112 million in U.S. currency sealed inside seven animal kennels, bringing to $768 million the total cash uncovered in recent days in a wooded neighborhood of mansions and rose gardens where top Baath Party and Republican Guard officials once lived.
Military officers said the money apparently was left by senior Iraqi officials who were fleeing the American invasion and were unable to carry all the cash they had amassed.
U.S. officials said investigators had discovered a withdrawal of $1 billion from the Central Bank of Jordan, leading to speculation that $200 million or more is still hidden in the walled community just east of Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace. The officials declined to say when the money was withdrawn in Jordan, or by whom.
But the locks on the kennels provided some tantalizing clues. They bore the signature of Republican Guard Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ibrahim and were dated March 20 -- the day the American ground invasion of Iraq was launched. And inside one of the 28 boxes that contained the cash was a slip of paper that read, in Arabic:
"Contents 40,000 one-hundred-dollar bills. By order of Saddam Hussein, this currency is sealed on March 16 in the presence of the following five people." Below were the signatures of five Baath Party ministers.
The cash -- like the $656 million uncovered Friday in four barricaded cottages -- was stacked neatly inside galvanized aluminum boxes sealed with blue strapping tape and green seals stamped "Bank of Jordan."
Tape found on the door locks of the cottages also bore the date March 20 and the signature of Gen. Ibrahim.
Inside one of the boxes was an accounting slip signed by Iraqi government officials and verifying that $4 million was secured in the box.
The Secret Service said it was working with the military to determine whether any of the cash discovered was counterfeited. U.S. officials have said that all of the money would be held for the transitional Iraqi government now being formed.
Some officers have speculated that the currency was payment by Jordan for Iraqi oil purchased in violation of U.N. sanctions imposed 12 years ago after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In late March, the Central Bank of Jordan said it took steps to curb withdrawals from Iraqi private or state deposits held in Jordanian banks. The governor of Jordan's Central Bank was reported by Reuters as saying that the move was prompted by a number of suspicious transactions.
Tuesday's discovery of $112 million was made by reservists from the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, who had just moved into a mansion in what was once an exclusive neighborhood along the west bank of the Tigris River. On a stroll, they noticed the kennels inside a fenced enclosure next to a rose garden. The small concrete kennels had been sealed with cinder blocks and cement.
"We all thought the same thing when we saw it: 'It just doesn't look right,' " said Col. Joe Jenkins of Riverside, a Marine serving with the civil affairs brigade.
The unit arrived in Baghdad on Monday to assist in humanitarian and rebuilding efforts.
Staff Sgt. Ron Chapman, a member of the unit, said: "Of course, we had a pretty good idea there'd be cash inside since we'd all heard about them finding all that money around here."
The soldiers spoke inside a military police crime-scene perimeter as investigators from the Army's Criminal Investigation Division sealed off the area and questioned six other American soldiers about an undisclosed amount of missing cash.
The six soldiers, all from the 3rd Infantry Division, included four already under investigation for $900,000 stolen and recovered Friday from the cash retrieved from the cottages. Of that amount, $600,000 was found hidden in a tree and $300,000 inside a cooler on one of the trucks used to transport the $656 million to Baghdad's international airport Friday night.
On Tuesday, more stacks of $100 bills from the hoard of cash found four days earlier were recovered in the same neighborhood by investigators, who declined to provide details.
The suspects, who were assigned to either guard cash Friday or load it onto trucks, were read their rights but have not been charged pending further investigation.
The soldiers are members of the division's 10th Engineer Battalion. Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Van Ess and Staff Sgt. Kenneth Buff, whose initial find of $320 million in two cottages Friday led to more discoveries of cash, were not implicated in the thefts -- and helped uncover the money inside the kennels Tuesday.
After members of the civil affairs unit reported their discovery, officers said, they secured four boxes taken from a single kennel they had smashed open. They notified military police, who cordoned off the site.
Commanders then summoned the division commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, who was at the nearby Presidential Palace complex for a news conference.
With Blount and military police watching, Van Ess and Buff broke down the seals on the remaining six kennels with a sledgehammer and crowbar Tuesday evening.
The kennels were sealed with 8 inches of cinderblock and cement.
The two sergeants were chosen for the detail because their truck contained the hammer and crowbar.
It was the same truck they feared they had lost Friday when it was commandeered to take cash to the airport.
Despite orders by commanders to stop all money hunts, Tuesday's discovery sent more soldiers strolling down the avenues of the neighborhood. The number of soldiers walking through the area increased after the general and the military police left.
The mansions, abandoned for several weeks, were not seriously damaged by U.S. bombs or pillaged by looters because U.S. soldiers were able to secure the neighborhood just as the battle for Baghdad was ending.
Ahmed Alenzi, 32, an Iraqi exile serving as a civil affairs interpreter, said he was overwhelmed by the sight of the money in the kennel even though members of the unit had been discussing the piles of cash found earlier.
"It makes me so sad," said Alenzi, a member of the Free Iraqi Forces. "I see our people starving, and here these other people are hiding hundreds of millions of dollars. This is the peoples' money, not theirs."