Pentagon warns consumers on Iraqi leader playing card sellers

U.S. defense officials are warning consumers to be wary of anyone selling what is fast becoming the most highly prized souvenir of the war against Iraq: a deck of playing cards depicting the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders.

Why? Because despite claims by some sellers on the eBay auction Web site that a friendly government contractor discreetly released several thousand decks to them, the Defense Intelligence Agency actually made only 200 decks for distribution to select U.S. forces in Iraq to aid in the hunt for senior Iraqis, a knowledgeable Defense official told CongressDaily.

And to satisfy growing public curiosity and demand for the cards, the full set has been available to download and print for free since last Friday using links appearing on the Web sites of both the Defense Department and U.S. Central Command. The set can be downloaded in different sizes and formats, including a single 11-inch by 22-inch sheet in an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file.

Since Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a Central Command spokesman, disclosed at a news briefing in Doha, Qatar, that soldiers were given decks of cards showing "key regime leaders who must be pursued and brought to justice," public demand for the cards has soared.

The number of auctions for the decks more than doubled on eBay in the last 24 hours, with more than 190 auction listings on Tuesday, some involving sellers who claim to have more than 2,000 decks for sale. Some sellers, including a few from coalition partners in the war Great Britain and Australia, are offering .pdf files that can be e-mailed to buyers, while others are selling uncut sheets of cards, electronic sets "burned" onto compact discs or purported "casino quality" decks for more than $100 apiece.

DIA itself has been inundated with e-mail requests for the cards on its public Web page. The Central Command site offers a link to its own .pdf file but warns, "The cards are not available for sale or distribution."

"It's definitely a case of 'buyer beware,'" said the Defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He said the agency initially considered hiring a leading playing-card manufacturer to make thousands of decks for distribution in the war zone but chose instead to distribute only 200 decks to troops with "a need to know"-presumably U.S. special operations forces in Iraq.

"We printed them ourselves," the official said, adding that the cards are not plastic-coated and likely would wear out after only a few games of poker. Defense officials said they have no plans for any additional printing runs or any "authorized" release of the card decks for public sale.