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

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?