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Saudis reportedly financing insurgency

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 anti-aircraft missiles, the Associated Press reports, citing 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 U.S.-led coalition.

But the U.S. 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, told the AP 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 anti-coalition forces, the officials said.

In one case, an Iraqi official said $25-million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile.

Overall, the Iraqi officials said, money has been pouring into Iraq from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bastion, since the U.S.-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 Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry.

Several drivers interviewed by the AP in Middle East capitals said Saudis have been using religious events, like the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a smaller pilgrimage, as cover for illicit money transfers. Some money, they said, is carried into Iraq on buses with returning pilgrims.

"They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq," said one driver, who gave his name only as Hussein. "I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don't take it with me, they will kill me."

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