Baghdad revealed as bank robbery capital of the world

The attack had been planned with military precision. Twelve men, masked and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles stormed into the al-Sanik branch of the Bank of Baghdad, disarmed the guards, tied them up and then terrified the staff by firing into the ceiling. About $800,000 (£400,000) in US dollars and Iraqi dinars was grabbed before the gang drove away in three cars, untroubled by the many checkpoints in the area.

The raid was just the latest of a long and lucrative line that sees, on average, a million dollars a month being taken at gunpoint. Bank executives have been kidnapped from their homes for ransoms as high as $6mn. Amid the bombs and gunfire, there is one "industry" is doing remarkably well – Baghdad is now the bank robbery capital of the world.

Iraq holds the world record for both the first and second highest amounts taken in the history of bank robberies. Top of the league is the estimated $800m removed from the Central Bank by Saddam Hussein's son, Qusay, in the dying days of the regime as US tanks were rolling into Baghdad.

In second position is the heist, just two months ago, at the Dar al-Salam Bank at Sadoun Street in central Baghdad when three guards turned on their employers and left with $282m.

Other banks hit recently has been the al-Rafidian which lost $1.2m; the Industry Bank, which had $784,000 taken; Iraqi Trade Bank, $1.8m ; the Bank of Baghdad, $ 1.6m; al-Warka Bank, $750,000; The Middle East Investment Bank, $1.32m... the list goes on.

Four years after "liberation" and the coming of the free market, Iraq is almost entirely a cash economy with a mushrooming group of private banks and vast sums of money being moved daily across the country.

The US authorities praised the rise of the private banking sector as one of the success stories of Iraq.

But the upsurge in robberies has meant that some branches have been unable to pay customers because of lack of cash.

One thing Iraq is not short of is men with guns. The banks, and their money convoys, are easy pickings. The security forces have their hands full with the insurgency and Shia militia groups and, in any case, are themselves suspected of carrying out many of the robberies.

Firas Ali Suleiman, a driver for the Bank of Baghdad described how a van carrying $1.6m from its Hilla branch to Baghdad was ambushed. "It was a Kia van and it was not armoured, but we had four guards with the money inside," he said.

"We were stopped at a checkpoint in Audiya run by the Ministry of Interior commandos. They ordered the back door to be opened and saw the money. The guards were called out and then put in handcuffs and hooded. I could hear them talking about the money and then they took the money out. I was told to drive away and I called the manager on my mobile and told him what happened.

"The next roadblock was by the Mehdi Army (Shia militia). I think they, too, were expecting to get some money but, by then, of course, it was gone. The police were called later but they did nothing."

Khalid Mohammed, the manager called by Mr Suleiman, is convinced most of the robberies take place with inside help. "I have been at a bank branch when the men with guns came. They knew exactly where the money was and, when they left, they went straight past all the checkpoints, no one searched their cars or asked any questions.

"Before the war we just had a few banks, now there are lots of private ones, so less security, and more opportunity for stealing."

Armed convoys, with darkened windows move through Baghdad every day.. They could be ministerial escorts, private security firms, or, as the police point out, robbers – and it is impossible for police to tell which is which.

Iraq's biggest heists

1: Central Bank (2003): $800m (£400m)

2: Dar al-Salam (2007): $282m

3. Iraqi Trade Bank (2007): $1.8m

4: Bank of Baghdad (2007): $1.6m

5: MEI Bank (2007): $1.32m

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn