London, Asharq Al-Awsat – A leading figure of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq stated that there are “conflicts to settle political accounts” behind the recent robberies carried out at branches of Iraq’s state-owned Al Rafidain Bank in Baghdad.
Following the robbery of the Biyaa branch of Al Rafidain Bank (near Karkh, Baghdad), the Iraqi Ministry of Finance accused what it described as a “security force” of breaking into and robbing the bank in an official statement released Thursday. Meanwhile, Spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, denied this information and stated that it was “an unjustified act of escalation.”
The Interior Ministry’s statement said that three of the people who took part in the robbery of the Zewiya branch of Al Rafadain Bank in the Karrada district last week were “members of the presidential brigade concerned with protecting Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi.” The robbery resulted in the deaths of eight security guards and over 8.3 million dollars was stolen.
Dr. Laith Shubbar, head of Abdul Mahdi’s office said that “only one member of the Vice President’s protection unit was involved in the Zewiya robbery.”
The Iraqi Ministry of Finance stated Thursday that “five guards were able to challenge the gang [the members of which were] wearing security forces uniforms and attempted to rob the bank in Baghdad. It is the second [robbery] in a week.” The statement also indicated that “a security force got into five military vehicles and attempted to rob the Biyaa branch on Tuesday morning and broke the door down using one of the vehicles.”
AFP carried the statement that said that the bank’s security team confronted the robbers who then fled to an unknown location. It stressed that the “Finance Minister Baqer al Zubaidi honoured the five guards for heroically confronting the ring.”
Spokesman of the Interior Ministry Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf told Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone from Baghdad that “an official security force, following instructions from Baghdad to protect and inspect state institutions, was carrying out its duties when it saw the front door of the Al Rafidain bank in Biyaa open. When the security force wanted to make sure everything was normal, fearing that the bank was being robbed especially following the robbery of the Zewiya branch, it became apparent that a guard was inside and there was an altercation going on between one of the bank’s security guards and a soldier of the inspecting team and it ended there. We investigated the matter without there being any gunfire or attempt to rob the bank.” Khalaf was shocked at the information given in the Ministry of Finance’s statement saying, “This is completely untrue,” adding that it is “an unjustifiable act of escalation.”
On his part, Laith Shubbar, head of Abdul Mahdi’s office, said, “The money stolen from Zewiya branch was found in Captain Jaafar Lazim’s house in Zewiya in Karrada and not in the building of Al Adalah newspaper.” He told Asharq Al-Awsat on the phone from Baghdad, “Captain Jaafar is one of the suspected elements, our office received information about there being oxygen bottles and equipment to help open safes, which pushed the Vice-President to issue a warrant for the inspection of Jaafari’s home. Apparatus to open vaults and money were found under his bed in his room.”
Shubbar added that Abdul Mahdi “went personally to Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to inform that the money had been found, and that one member of his protection unit was involved in the operation. The Prime Minister ordered, in coordination with security forces, the arrests of those involved.” Shubbar explained that the “issue took on political dimensions when the Interior Minister, Jawad al Bulani, stated that influential parties were behind the operation, and what he meant by this, according to what the spokesman for the Interior Ministry said, was officers of the presidential guards.” He added finally, “Matters will now be interpreted in different ways now because of the proximity of the elections.”
Reza Jawad Taqi, a leading figure and spokesman of the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq admitted that there is “a political conflict going on between members of the government and other parties in order to settle accounts.”
Taqi told Asharq Al-Awsat, “The Minister of Interior has been embroiled because he is head of an electoral list and head of a party,” indicating that there are “members of government who are trying to exploit the bank robbery to settle political accounts, and this is what we sense from the contradictions in the statements of the Minister of Interior and his spokesperson and the contradictions in the information given by Adel Abdul Mahdi’s office – which I trust – and the statements of the Interior Ministry.”
Taqi stated that he believes that political conflicts will intensify as the elections get closer. He hopes that “this rivalry will transform into ideological competition that develops the political process and will work in the interest of the Iraqis.” Taqi revealed that “communication is being made behind the scenes to contain the repercussions of the robbery, and these communications are going on between the Ministry of Interior and Abdul Mahdi’s office, as well as his protection unit.”