Sunday, July 30, 2006

umm, that's no disguise

baghdad, iraq, july 28the two armored vans left a branch of the warka bank on thursday around noon, loaded with 1.191 billion dinars, or nearly $800,000. almost immediately, on a busy street near the baghdad zoo, the drivers spotted an oncoming iraqi army convoy, led by a shiny new humvee. they followed standard procedure and pulled over.

but the convoy stopped, and an officer politely ordered the surprised drivers and guards to lay down their guns while his men searched the vans for bombs.

within minutes all eight drivers and guards had been handcuffed and locked in the back of one of the vans on a suffocating 120-degree day, the cash had been stolen by the men in the convoy — whoever they were — and the iraqi banking system marked another day of its slow slide into oblivion.

the only thing atypical about thursday’s robbery, which was described by bank and interior ministry officials, is that most private banks try to avoid using armored vans, because they draw too much attention, and instead toss sacks of cash into ordinary cars for furtive dashes through the streets of baghdad.

however the cash goes out, it risks being lost in the wash of robbery, kidnapping and intrigue that now plagues the system.

praised by the united states as a success story as recently as a few months ago, that system has quickly become a wild landscape of clandestine cash runs, huge hauls by robbers dressed as police officers and soldiers, kidnappings of bank executives with ransoms as high as $6 million, american allegations of tie-ins with insurgent financiers, and legitimate customers turned away when they go to pick up their savings and flee the country.

"it is a crisis," said wisam k. jamil, managing director of iraq’s oldest private bank, the bank of baghdad, which lost $1.5 million in a literal case of highway robbery by men wearing police uniforms last december.

because of that robbery, the bank lost much of its insurance coverage. even more galling for mr. jamil, the insurance policy had a standard disclaimer saying that losses due to acts of war or terrorism were not covered, and as the warka holdup on thursday illustrated, no one can say if a theft in iraq is committed by insurgents, bandits or genuine members of the security forces. so the insurance company has not paid mr. jamil’s claim ...

the times might prefer to whistle past facts aimed straight between its eyes, but it's all too crystal clear to the rest of us that iraq's highwaymen aren't just outlaws masquerading as police and military — it's far worse: they are the police and military.

(hat tip to steve gilliard.)

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