Friday, October 17, 2003

October 15

The new Iraqi dinar

Today was the first day 250 banks all over Iraq commenced the exchange of the old Iraqi currency(ies) with new unified notes recently printed abroad, in Britain I guess. It was surprisingly a peaceful and quiet day, contrary to all expectations and rumours circulating in Baghdad that banks would be targetted the first day they started the exchange process. Many Rafidain bank divisions across Baghdad received warnings and threat letters. My aunt works as a bank manager, and she found a letter on her desk a few days ago signed by a group called The Army Of Mohammed 'Jaish Mohammed' asking her how she would like to die. This group had appeared many times mainly on Al Arabiyah station threatening Americans, coalition forces, governing council members, and any Iraqis 'collaborating with occupying forces'. Of course collaborators range widely (in their definition) from translators working with American patrols or international organizations and foreign companies, local UN workers, to normal civil servants and employees working at governmental offices. Needless to say, my aunt was freaked out and she visited us that day panicking and it was until she calmed down a bit that we got the story out of her, of course everyone wanted her to quit and stay home but she wouldn't hear of it. I still think it was a practical joke by some prankster at her office.
Anyway, banks witnessed extreme security measures by both Iraqi police and American forces to thwart any attempted attacks. Barbed wire, large concrete barriers had been placed around the larger divisions, and checkpoints in the streets leading to the banks, this caused some traffic jams, especially in the busiest areas of the city, but it was neccessary. 80 bank divisions in Baghdad were involved in the exchange, which started at 8 in the morning and closed at 4 in the afternoon. The exchange process will continue as such for three months till the 15th of January which will be enough for the new Dinar to circulate and to get rid of the old ones.
People were happy, I talked to some people in my neighbourhood who had been fortunate to be the first to see the new notes. They showed them to me, the notes were beautiful and obviously of a very high quality, shiny and crispy. They come in 50, 100, 250, 1000, 5000, 10,000, and 25,000 Dinar bills. The 25,000 D note sounds extreme and unneccessary, and might create a few problems when dealing with such large a note. But most importantly they looked impossible to forge, which was the reason they were made in the first place.

People have been having a lot of trouble with their money the last 6 months. First the problem of the 10,000 dinar bills, billions worth of these notes were looted from banks and banks' printing storages, and a large majority of these were without printed serial numbers. But the looters cleverly solved this little annoyance, they simply stole the whole bank press and machinery along with the ink used and other details, and started to print their own numbers and notes. So the greedy idiots at Al Kifah street (which is the Wall street of Baghdad) decided not to deal with the 10,000 bills at all and bought them at prices ranging from 6500 to 8000 per note. Of course merchants followed and that was that. No matter how genuine your notes were, nobody would take them at their real value. Add to this problem that most Iraqi merchants, businessmen, and families had exchanged their smaller notes with 10k notes before the war, and you get the picture. And in the first month the CPA decided to give salaries in 10k bills which didn't help at all. Central Bank and CPA officials stated all the time that 10k bills were valid and that there was no truth in the rumours that indicated otherwise, but people wouldn't listen.
Another problem which surfaced in the last 2 months was the 250 dinar bill. We have two kinds of these, the old one which was used during the 90's and the new one which started circulating last year. Both have Saddam on them, but the second is smaller. Anyway, AL Kifah st. financial 'experts' were out of ideas how to make more money, so they decided to spread a rumour that most of the small 250 D bill were forged, and so they wouldn't deal with them anymore, except of course they would gladly buy them at lower prices. I couldn't imagine people would be so stupid to believe this, but sadly they bought it. In present day Iraq, rumours work better than official statements, people for some reason always believe the rumour and think that any official statement is just a cover up or some sort of conspiracy to fool them. Iraqis never trust their governments, and they don't believe what they say due to obvious reasons from their late history. The American adminstration in Iraq should know that by heart and they should act accordingly to gain the peoples trust.

Back to the Dinar. In the last 30 years we have experienced so many changes in currency that I would need a whole book just to mention them and state the differences between each.
The ones that are currently in circulation fall in two groups:
First, the 'swisry' Dinar which means Swiss (where they were usually printed) which were in use during the 80's up to a couple of years following the first Gulf war. It was a very stable currency and it's exchange rate with the dollar was 0.33 Dinars. It remained in use in the autonomous Kurdish territories till this day. it comes in 0.25, 0.5, 1, 5, 10, and 25 Dinar notes. Today one swisry Dinar equals 250 new Dinars, so one Dollar would equal 7-8 Swiss Dinars. This version was used as the template of the new Iraqi Dinar which would look the same except colored differently.
Second, the tabu' Dinar (tabu' means printed) which falls into 3 subgroups:
A) locally printed versions of the swisry Dinar with some minor changes. They are no longer in use today.
B) locally printed new Dinars with Saddam's picture on all of them. They come in 25, 50, 100, and 250 Dinar notes. This was at the time the value of the Dinar started to fall against the Dollar. These are the ones mainly used today in Iraq.
C) locally printed smaller Dinars, also with Saddam's picture on them. They come in 25, 50, 100, 250, and the infamous 10,000 Dinar notes. These were at first favoured because of the 10k bill which would allow people to store their money in smaller amounts of notes, whereas they usually had to deal with the problem of carrying large sacks of money in 250 D notes which would bring unwanted attention. But this last version of the Dinar faced problems in post Saddam Iraq, so they are less used today.

So all this mess would obviously highlight the importance of a new currency in Iraq today. If it were only to get rid of Saddam's picture from our money which seems to mock us everyday smiling back at us. it was enough for that reason alone. Some people marked this day , 15/10, as the 'second fall of Saddam', I agree with that. 'His' face will now be forever erased from our memory. It's a great day for Iraqis.

You can see the new notes here

Al-Zahf Al-Kabir

I'm not sure if the American adminstration deliberately chose this day , October 15th, to start circulating the new Dinar or if it was purely coincidental. Nevertheless the timing is wonderful and so symbolic. Iraqis know this day to be 'thikra al-zahf al-kabir' or the anniversary of The Great March, it can also be translated as The Great Crawl which is more accurate. Saddam's version of elections. It was in October 15th 1995 that Saddam decided to show the world how Iraqis want him and only him to be president 'for life'. So he set up voting centers all over Iraq, so that the people would vote for their 'beloved leader'. Of course it was absurd, there were no other candidates, no political parties, no nothing. Mukhabarat and security agents had already started spreading rumours on the street that the paper you would submit had some kind of watermark that you could be traced by. Of course there was nothing like that, but it was a message to Iraqis that no one could even dream of saying no. The paper ran something like this (I don't recall the exact wording): 'Do you vote for president Saddam Hussein (Allah preserve him), Yes, or No'. It was actually a poll. And it was creepy enough for everyone to say Yes. Of course the voting procedure was carried out in a democratic fashion, armed Baath members hanging around the centers, and sometimes even voting for you, nobody simply could secretly write no and fold the paper and submit it. It was all scrutinized by party members. But some people somehow DID write no, but it didn't change anything. It was all prearranged. It was just a farce. The next day Izzat Ibrahim AlDori (revolutionary council vice president) announced the results proudly to the world: %99.9. And that was it. Each following year after 1995, October 15th was a day for celebration. Last year Saddam pathetically realized the need for another show, seeing how things looked bad for him. It was pretty much the same thing, but this time the results were %100! I clearly remember it because I was almost killed that day. The party announced that people can celebrate that day in any way they see fit; which really meant that they were allowed to celebrate by shooting in the air. After a few hours everyone who owned a kalashnikov started frantically shooting. In the evening the dark sky became red with the glow of bullets. The streets were filled with young party members celebrating. I was standing in front of my house watching crazy teenagers shooting in the air while driving by in cars when *CLANG* a stray bullet hit the metallic door I was leaning against just inches from me. I stood there dumbstruck for a few moments. Obviously someone thought it would be more fun to shoot at people instead of in the air, since he was practicing his right in celebrating for his leader and it was impossible that he would be punished for that even if he killed someone in the process. I remember stifling my anger then storming into the house shouting at everyone and threatening to tie every party member I know in the neigbourhood by their feet to my car with a rope and drag them through town as soon as we were 'liberated'. Of course I was told to shut the f*ck up. The method I mentioned above is called 'sahel' in Iraqi slang, and its part of our political heritage. About 50 years ago when the monarchy was overthrown, the Iraqi prime minister then Nouri Alsaeed and the crown prince Abdul Illah were dragged around baghdad this way after they were killed. I have a picture of it but its too graphic to be posted. And during General Kassem's reign after that, Communists used to kill their opponents this way, which ironically enough were either Baathists or Arab nationalists. Kirkuk and Mosul witnessed the bloodiest of these events during the late fifties. I am digressing. What I meant to say, is that most people expected 'sahel' to return after the fall of Saddam's regime. But it didn't. Actually people were very tolerant towards Baathists in general following the war, which to tell the truth surprised me. They even protected them from angry people who wanted revenge in some neighbourhoods. They forgot and chose to forgive them for all the blackmailing, harrassment, and secret reports most of them were guilty of. Talk about tolerance. Of course there were incidental cases of revenge that happened and are still to this day. A friend of mine always tell me that if Baathists were 'sahel'ed at that time, they wouldn't have dared to carry out attacks against Americans and Iraqis today. I'm not sure if I agree with him or not. But I AM sure that they wouldn't have dared to openly go out in armed demonstrations calling for the return of Saddam to power, and insultingly carrying his pictures and shouting Baathist slogans. As we have witnessed today in Adhamiya and Hay
Al Tikarta in Baghdad. And in Ba'quba and Faluja.
I actually expected that Saddam would broadcast a message to Iraqis today, reminding them of the fact that he is still legally their 'elected president', as he has occasionally done in the past few months. But he has been mysteriously silent for a while. Maybe the Americans are really closing in on him as they say. I want to live long enough to see him caught ALIVE. the possibilities would be endless. I'm sure it would be a great day for some real celebration in Iraq. I just hope the Americans won't make the stupid mistake of killing him like they did with his sons. Some might ask 'but wouldn't you like to see him killed?'. Believe me I would. But I would rather see him alive and humiliated for all he has done to this country and to humanity. I'm not even sure a trial would satisfy me. I want him to be put in a large glass cage at Fardus square where his statue once stood. It should be bulletproof so that no idiot would simply come and shoot him. He would sit in rags and be fed garbage once a day. People from all over Iraq and the world would come to watch him until he rots. It would be our national zoo, our primary tourists attraction. I would give 20 years of my life just to see that. And I'm sure 30 million Iraqis would do the same. I just hope someone from the Pentagon is listening.