KIRKUK, Iraq — U.S. soldiers seized $80 million to
$100 million worth of crudely made, non-minted gold bars
Sunday and detained three Iraqis heading east, possibly
for the Iranian border, officials said Monday.
Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, manning a
routine checkpoint set up on the outskirts of Kirkuk,
impounded the truck Sunday and detained the three
occupants because the driver’s paperwork and
identification did not match the vehicle registration,
according to Maj. Kevin Petit, executive officer of the
brigade based in Vicenza, Italy.
“That was the probable cause,” Petit said.
Inside the bed of the turquoise Mercedes dump truck
were 999 bars of gold, each weighing about 22 pounds,
said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the Army’s
4th Infantry Division, which oversees military
operations in northern Iraq. The military based its
estimate of value on the weight of the gold.
The three occupants, two Kurds and one Turkmen, told
the arresting soldiers and later intelligence officers
they had been paid $300 cash to transport what they
thought was melted down copper, Petit said. They still
were in U.S. custody Monday afternoon for
interrogations, he added.
The truck left Baghdad on Saturday and was on its way
to As Sulaymaniya, near the border with Iran, he said.
The soldiers stopped it Sunday about 10 a.m. at a
checkpoint in the south side of town, which has been the
site of previous checkpoints, he said.
For now, military leaders are leaning toward
believing the three men’s story because no weapons were
found in the truck, the trio did not put up any
resistance when the dump truck was stopped or impounded,
and the gold bars were not concealed in any way, Petit
The gold will be analyzed to determine its purity and
exact value, and then sent to the Central Iraqi
Treasury, Aberle said.
A reservist assigned to the 173rd who works in a gold
and jewelry shop in the civilian world told military
officials that the find likely was 21-carat gold, Petit
The 173rd soldiers who stopped and seized the booty
were on patrol Monday afternoon when officials briefed
reporters and were unavailable for interviews.
Two days earlier, soldiers stopped another Mercedes
dump truck on its way toward the Syrian border hauling a
load of 2,000 gold bars that look very similar to the
ones seized Monday, he said.
Officials can’t say yet whether the two incidents are
linked. “But they do look similar,” Petit said.
None of the drivers had proper documentation and gold
is not a natural resource in Iraq, making the transport
of so many bars highly suspicious, Aberle