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Iraqis Crowd Banks to Get New Cash


There was excitement at banks in Iraq, the first day of issue for Iraq's new currency. Crowds of people mobbed the banks to trade in their old cash for the new.

Banks across Iraq were doing banner business, as they began issuing a new currency that does not contain the image of Saddam Hussein.

Under tight Iraqi and U.S. security that included tanks and armored personnel vehicles, 240 banks across Iraq began exchanging the new Iraqi dinars for the old ones in one-to-one ratio. The crispy new folding money comes in six denominations.

Machines that count the notes were busy as long lines developed in front of banks throughout Baghdad.

One customer, Qais Raad, walked away from a bank teller with a smile on his face and 30,000 new Iraqi dinars, or roughly $15, in his hands. Mr. Raad said he was thanking God for the new currency because it no longer has Saddam Hussein's image on it. He said Saddam oppressed the country for so long and now he is gone.

One customer, Hassan Khadoun Issa, came to the bank with boxes containing 10 million old Iraqi dinars. He owns a currency exchange shop, and said he is happy about the new bank notes. Mr. Issa said now he feels safer about the currency because he says there was too much counterfeiting going on.

U.S. planning for the new currency began well before the war to oust Saddam Hussein. Two thousand, three hundred tons of new notes were printed and delivered to Iraq on 27 jumbo jets.

Banks have been preparing for the new note exchanges for the past two weeks, and the manager of a bank in the Mansour district of Baghdad, Muhned Faisal al-Quasy, said other than larger crowds, operations were running smoothly.

Mr. Al-Quasy said his bank did not face any difficulty. He said more employees and security guards have been hired and everyone has been trained to deal with the new currency. And, he says, no one is fearing anyone will attack the bank.

Following the war to oust Saddam Hussein, most banks across Iraq were looted and burned.

Now, no less than 19 security guards armed with machine guns will be assigned to each bank in Iraq, with more stationed at the larger institutions.

Iraqis will have three months to swap the old currency for the new. On January 15 the bank notes with Saddam Hussein's image will stop circulating.

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