A Face Lift for Iraqi Currency
By Charlie Keenan
The back and front of a current Iraqi 250-dinar note, which will be swapped for new notes beginning October 15. The new notes will not depict ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Old notes should be out of circulation by early 2004. (Photo: AP Wide World)

Saddam Hussein has disappeared, and his picture on Iraq's currency will soon be history too. With the help of U.S. officials, the Iraqi dinar will be redesigned—without Hussein's face. It should be in circulation by October 15.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, which is in charge of rebuilding Iraq, is having the new bills printed. Denominations will be different colors, and harder to counterfeit, or reproduce illegally.

The new currency will be printed in bills of 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 25,000. The amounts may sound like a lot, but consider this: 250 dinars equals about 16 American cents. The 10,000 dinar is worth about $6.50. Since most transactions are in cash these days (people there don't write checks or use credit cards), Iraqis are carrying their spending money in plastic bags rather than in pocketbooks or wallets.

The small denomination notes are also the most popular these days, increasing the number of notes a person must have on hand to shop. Many merchants won't accept large Iraqi bills as payment. When Baghdad fell, looters raided the banks, stealing billions of dollars worth of dinars, much of which were 10,000-dinar notes. Rumors spread that banks would no longer accept the notes, so merchants will now take only 250-dinar notes in payment.

To get the country back on track economically, Iraqis need to earn and spend money. The U.S.-led coalition, which ousted Saddam Hussein from power, has had to print millions of 250-dinar notes bearing Hussein's picture. The old version is the only money the mint is currently set up to print. A new design will help jump-start the economy while also making a political statement.

Once a new Iraqi government is formed, it can choose its own currency, and yet another version of the dinar will probably be printed.

"The coalition, on behalf of the Iraqi people, will print and distribute new bank notes for all of Iraq," says coalition head Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III. Bremer stressed that the Iraqi people will have control of their government and their money. "We have not designed a new currency for Iraq: Only a sovereign Iraqi government could make that decision."