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Raid nets $1 mln of forged Iraqi currency

BAGHDAD, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Forged Iraqi banknotes worth about $1 million were seized in a central Baghdad raid on Tuesday, officials said, in what was believed to be the biggest operation of its kind against counterfeiters.

Iraqi National Security Minister Shirwan al-Waeli said four people were arrested during the raid by Iraqi soldiers and security ministry officers on a ground-floor apartment in Baghdad's Karrada district.

"A huge amount of money was found in the house, more than 1 billion Iraqi dinars," Waeli told Reuters.

A Defence Ministry statement said the notes seized amounted to 1.25 billion Iraqi dinars, equivalent to roughly $1 million.

Robberies targeting banks and security vans carrying Iraqi and U.S. currency are relatively common in and around Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, but large-scale counterfeiting operations are extremely rare.

A security ministry official, who asked not to be named, said four printing presses were also seized in the raid.

"I myself counted 965 million dinars," he said.

Waeli said the forged currency was in notes of 10,000 and 25,000 dinars. He said security ministry officials had been tracking the gang since Nov. 5.

Television footage showed piles of forged notes seized in the raid, some stacked in plastic-wrapped bundles and others in uncut sheets.

Most transactions in Iraq have been carried out in cash since the 2003 invasion because of limited facilities to transfer money through banks or other financial institutions.

Huge amounts of money were also looted from Iraq's banks during the invasion. (Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Charles Dick)

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