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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
UK troops turn bankers in Basra

by Andrew Harding
In Basra, Iraq

Millions of pounds of Iraqi dinars are being guarded at British army headquarters in Basra because the risk of looting is too great in the bank.

It is a bank job with a difference.

British soldiers breaking into the vaults of Basra's central bank.

The plan - to rescue the money before robbers steal it.

Soldier stacking bags of bank notes
Looking after the dinars is a full-time job

In total some 79bn dinars (15m) has built up at a British Army camp.

Major Ian Jaggard-Hawkins, of the 7th Armoured Brigade said: "I am used to dealing with about a million dollars, but certainly nothing on this scale.

"I have never seen 15m of anything."

What the British are offering is an account with zero interest but high security. In Basra right now, that is the only thing that counts.

The next step is to start paying the salary of local state workers, breathing life into the economy.

On Saturday British soldiers foiled an attempt to steal millions in American dollars and gold bullion from the central bank.

Money stored at Army headquarters
Stashing the cash, with limited interest

They arrested 59 men who were trying to get away with the haul after blowing open a vault.

It was the third time robbers had targeted the bank in the past week.

Before long Saddam Hussein's currency may be replaced, but for the moment it is all these Iraqis have got and it needs to be kept stable.

"We have been working for free, but we cannot do that forever," an Iraqi fireman said.

So back at central bank, works starts on another vault, thwarting the looters and helping to rescue the Iraqi economy.

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