CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – U.S. forces are trying to determine whether more than $600 million in $100 bills found behind a false wall in Baghdad is counterfeit, but if it's real, it belongs to the Iraqi people, U.S. Central Command officials said Tuesday.
Using forklifts to handle the heavy, tightly wrapped packets of new bills, soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division hauled the money away for safekeeping, Central Command said.
The existence of the money surfaced last week, when the 3rd Infantry found $656 million in a Tigris River neighborhood where senior Baath Party and Republican Guard officials lived.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said the soldiers found the cash behind a false wall while they were trying to stop looting. U.S. Central Command officials said the money, found behind a false wall of an Iraqi palace compound, belonged to the Iraqi people.
There was no indication what the money would be used for. Brooks said the first priority would be to determine if it was genuine.
Brooks, deputy operations director at Central Command, also confirmed that U.S. troops had negotiated a cease-fire with the People's Mujahedeen, a group supported by Saddam Hussein's regime that has been fighting to overthrow the government of Iran for 17 years.
Members of the militia were moving their vehicles into temporary military facilities around Baqubah, about 25 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The United States and the European Union have classified the Mujahedeen as a terrorist group.
Brooks acknowledged the United States considered the group terrorist, but declined to say how any surrender might be handled, such as whether the fighters would be taken as POWs or allowed to simply "melt away," as other Iraqi fighters have been allowed to do.
"There's discussion that's ongoing right now to determine exactly what the condition and what the status will be and how we'll handle them," he said.
Security continues to be a major concern. U.S. forces have found over 800 suicide vests in several locations, Brooks said. In addition, coalition forces have found "sophisticated" explosive devices hidden in what appear to be marble tables, he said.
The tables, designed to explode as people gathered around them, could be detonated with a timer, fuse or some other automatic trigger or by someone intentionally setting them off.
"The finding of such devices reinforces the reality that terrorist tactics and actions were certainly supported by the regime," Brooks said. "Further, it reinforces the need for deliberate work to root out the terrorists that are still present in Iraq."
On the suicide vests, Brooks said explosives had been inserted into the vests' pockets or sometimes sewn into the fabric. Some of the vests had packets containing ball bearings to increase the lethal effect of the explosives.
"Coalition forces are finding or being guided to caches of improvised explosive devices," he said. "We remain concerned about the possibility of suicide attacks."
In northern Iraq, he said, U.S. troops encountered small arms fire near the city of Mosul and at an airfield just to the west of it. The attack was repulsed, but the assailants escaped.
Brooks also said some samples from suspected weapons of mass destruction sites had been flown to the United States for testing, to determine if indeed they were banned items.
He also noted that while many hospitals and clinics in Iraq had little power or medical supplies, Saddam's regime had plenty of generators and medicines available but never delivered them.
In warehouses operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, U.S. forces found more generators and spare generator parts than they had expected, along with plenty of medical supplies.