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Private Saudis said to fund Iraq insurgents

Millions reported sent to Sunnis

CAIRO -- Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.

Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the US-led coalition.

But the US Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by the Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.

Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.

Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anticoalition forces, the officials said.

In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strelas, Russian shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said.

Overall, the Iraqi officials said, money has been pouring into Iraq from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bastion, since the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Saudi officials vehemently deny their country is a major source of financial support for the insurgents.

"There isn't any organized terror finance, and we will not permit any such unorganized acts," said Brigadier General Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry. About a year ago the Saudi government set up a unit to track any "suspicious financial operations," he said.

But the Iraq Study Group said "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states."

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