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ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. officials are banking on the almighty dollar to speak as loudly as coalition weapons and troops in the now-liberated Iraq — and are paying for information that has eluded military intelligence.

“Rewards are available to those who help us prevent the disappearance of personnel, documentation and materials,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during a recent news briefing. “Good lives and a better future are possible for those who turn themselves in and choose to cooperate with coalition forces.”

U.S. government agencies have teamed to provide reward money to Iraqis who help coalition forces track down high-ranking members of the now-toppled regime that might prove the United States’ contention that former president Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.

However, the program is not unique to Iraq, and has been used in Afghanistan to aid troops in the search for top al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, said Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

“The program’s intent is to encourage the local citizens of foreign countries to provide information and other assistance, including the delivery of dangerous personnel and weapons, useful to U.S. military authorities,” she said.

The State Department’s “Rewards for Justice Program” is offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to the capture and conviction of Osama bin Laden — the al-Qaida terrorist group leader whose whereabouts remains unknown.

The DOD program is flexible, and mostly remains up to combatant commands to determine who gets what, Burfeind said. The rewards might be cash, either in U.S. or foreign currency, or payments-in-kind such as food, amenities, necessities or communal rewards, she said.

In the field, approving officers are limited to rewards of no more than $2,500 in value, she said. Higher up the chain of command, however, combatant commanders can authorize payments up to $50,000. And, the largest reward the Defense Department may pay — $200,000 in value, must be approved by the secretary himself, she said.

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