Iraqis exchange their `Saddams' for new currency


Wednesday, October 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6




BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraqis began drawing their new currency from banks across the country Wednesday, exchanging their ``Saddams,'' old banknotes bearing the fugitive dictator's portrait, for a series with historical themes similar to dinar bills of two decades ago.

North of Baghdad, two Iraqi attackers were killed in a clash with an American patrol in the flashpoint town of Baquba, the U.S. military said.

Behind a shield of American armor and guns, the flow of customers at Baghdad banks appeared nearly normal, reflecting the fact that people will have three months to turn in their old money and many had already deposited expiring dinars in bank accounts in recent weeks.

``So there's no need for a stampede,'' said Mowafaq H. Mahmood, chief executive officer of the private Bank of Baghdad.

Baghdadis also may have stayed away out of fear that pro-Saddam Hussein militants might target banks on the first day of the exchange, in a city rocked by three suicide car bombings in the past week. ``That's why we've got American protection,'' said Mahmood, whose private bank has 18 branches nationwide.

The one-to-one exchange of dinar notes will provide no major boost to the crippled Iraqi economy, other than eliminating a severe counterfeiting problem plaguing the old currency.

``This is great: getting rid of the counterfeit problem and Saddam Hussein at the same time,'' said food wholesaler Ali al-Khaby, 34, waiting with a stack of 7.5 million old dinars _ about $3,750 _ at a Bank of Baghdad branch. ``We really had a lot of problems with counterfeit 250-dinar notes,'' equivalent to 12 cents.

The action in Baquba, 35 miles north of the capital, involved two overnight raids reported Wednesday by the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, responsible for an area with strong lingering support for the ousted Saddam.

The division said a U.S. combat patrol came under attack and returned fire, killing one attacker, then stormed a building where others fled, killing another Iraqi. A third Iraqi was wounded, and eight were detained, the division said.

In another incident, U.S. miitary police and Iraqi police raided a suspected arms dealer's building, found rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, assault rifles and a machine gun, and detained the alleged dealer and seven others.

In other developments:

_A U.S. Army helicopter was forced down at 11:50 p.m. Tuesday at Qaim near the Syrian border, after coming under repeated rocket-propelled grenade fire from unknown assailants, the U.S. military reported. It said no injuries or damage to the aircraft were reported.

_The FBI and Iraqi police were investigating Tuesday's suicide car bombing at the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad. Witnesses said one passerby was killed, along with the bomber, and hospital officials reported 13 wounded. The attack was believed connected to Turkey's decision to send troops to reinforce the U.S. occupation force in Iraq. But as with seven previous deadly vehicle bombings in Iraq since August, no one claimed responsibility.

_About 70 police officers rallied outside a downtown police station Wednesday to demand payment of delayed September salaries. A police chief, Kamal Faleh Ali Hussein, said authorities were verifying payrolls to weed out names fraudulently added by corrupt officials _ another symptom of the challenges faced in trying to rebuild Iraq's economy.

The face of President Saddam Hussein was added to Iraqi currency after the 1991 Gulf War. After the U.S.-British invasion toppled his government, tens of thousands of Saddam portraits were pulled down from walls across Iraq. But it took six months for the occupation authorities to begin to get his old money out of circulation.

In Mosul, some Iraqis standing in line at a local bank said they were happy to see the ousted leader's image gone from their money.

``Whenever we looked around us we used to see Saddam Hussein's picture....This is better,'' said Ahmed Nadhir, 24, a taxi driver.

The bills, printed in Britain in hues of purple and green, feature a waterfall, a portrait of King Hammurabi of ancient Babylon and historic monuments, among other illustrations. They come in six denominations _ 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 25,000. The old 1980s currency, without Saddam's portrait, remained in use in Iraq's autonomous north during the 1990s, but now all of Iraq will use the single new currency.

The dinar plummeted to about 4,000 for a dollar during the war but has rebounded in the past six months to about 2,000 per dollar, close to its prewar level.

The new bills happened to be introduced on the first anniversary of a referendum that ``re-elected'' the dictator Saddam with a purported 100 percent of the vote. Waiting at a government bank with a woven bag bulging with 12 million dinars, Shurok Sami said she, like all Iraqi voters, voted ``yes'' for Saddam last Oct. 15.

On Wednesday, she said, she would ``vote'' to get rid of Saddam by dumping his currency. ``If I had money,'' she laughed. The 12 million belonged to her government office, she explained.