- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

BAGHDAD An Army Reserve unit from Riverdale Park, Md., last night discovered at least $4 million in crisp U.S. cash in a compound that had been home to Special Republican Guard officers.
Soldiers opened one of four identical boxes last night and say there could be many more in sealed compartments in the L-shaped bunker. They say they suspect that chemical weapons are hidden there as well.
"I'm just awed," said Col. Dave Blackledge, commander of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, which had just arrived in Baghdad to assess war damage and support relief and reconstruction efforts. "I guess we can rebuild Iraq now," he joked.
The money was hidden March 16, three days before the start of the war, according to a statement written in Arabic and witnessed by five men whose signatures attest to the contents of the galvanized aluminum case.
Capt. Krispian McCullar of Virginia Beach and 1st Sgt. Dale Blosser of Mt. Sidney, Va., pounded with picks, poles and sledgehammers at the 5-inch-thick wall made of brick and mortar. A locked grate stalled the hunt a few moments, as did the elaborate seals, locks and rivets encircling the 70-pound box.
"Whatever is in there sure must be valuable," said Lt. David Johnson, a logistics manager for Food Lion.
After an additional half-hour of prying, unscrewing, hammering and grunting, the lid snapped back to reveal rows of tightly packed, bank-wrapped currency.
It was 40,000 $100 bills.
The brief silence was broken by whoops and roars from the soldiers, many of whom had heard tales of buried treasure discovered in an elite neighborhood just west of the Tigris River, behind Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's main palace.
On Friday, two Army sergeants stumbled upon a sealed cottage that contained an estimated $650 million in cash. The money was confiscated, and officials said that it will be held for the Iraqi people.
Yesterday, soldiers had grown suspicious of the ventilated, heavily guarded concrete bunker just hours after they moved into vacated houses in the leafy neighborhood.
"My guess is that tomorrow we'll find two more things: cash and some kind of chemicals," said Lt. Col. Ken Knox, an intensive-care nurse in Buffalo, N.Y. Col. Knox paced the courtyard for much of the afternoon, pouncing on clues such as fresh-poured concrete, hollow floors in a nearby guardhouse and bricked-over rooms containing nothing but refrigeration units.
Several soldiers said their interest was piqued by the small wire cages that lined two sides of the bunker, apparently to hold small guard dogs or chemically sensitive birds. They also puzzled over the presence in the enclosed courtyard of a new glass-walled room that seemed to be a guardhouse.
The cages and guardhouse surrounding the 4-foot-tall concrete bunker suggest close surveillance of the contents and intruders.
The 354th Civil Affairs Brigade inspired the 1999 George Clooney-Mark Wahlberg adventure "Three Kings," in which three reservists pursue tens of millions in gold bars stolen by the Iraqi regime. In the movie, the heroes overcome their greed and use the money to finance the Kurdish resistance and benefit refugees on the border with Iran.
After letting everyone fondle the foot-thick stacks of hundreds, Col. Blackledge and Col. Knox rounded up every packet and made sure the box went to a secured location. Armed patrols were placed around the compound last night.
The astonished soldiers were overjoyed to find the stash a day after arriving in Baghdad. After jubilant joking about vacations and pipe dreams, the men seemed overwhelmed with the implications of their discovery.
"For me, this is so sad," said Ahmed Alenezi, a member of the U.S.-trained Free Iraqi Forces who grew up in Basra, emigrated to Portland, Ore., after the 1991 Gulf war and returned to his homeland this month as an Army translator and guide.
"Underground money, palaces everywhere, people starving. I don't know how I am feeling," Mr. Alenezi said. "It is so wrong."
He said the money should be used to repay the U.S. military for liberating the Iraqi people.
Staff Sgt. Daniel T. Wilson of Tampa, Fla., said the money should be applied to rebuilding Iraq and vanquishing remnants of the former regime.
"We should hire local contractors to rebuild this country and pay them with U.S. dollars," Sgt. Wilson said.

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