BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's Central Bank (search) introduced the country's new currency on Saturday, eliminating Saddam Hussein from yet another aspect of life.
Months after his fall, Saddam is still a pervasive presence in Iraq, if only because his picture is on every banknote. Not so with the new Iraqi dinars, which will go into circulation Oct. 15.
The new notes will be converted at a rate of one to one and Iraqis will have three months to unload their old cash. The bills are printed in rich purple and green hues, and feature animals, ornate Arabic script and historic monuments.
"The new currency is one currency for the entire country," said Deputy Bank Governor Ahmed Jaburi (search) during a ceremony showcasing the new bills.
The banknotes come in six denominations — 50, 250, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 25,000. They look similar to the Iraqi national currency used before 1990, popularly known as the "Swiss dinar," which is still used in northern Kurdish-controlled Iraq. That currency will also be replaced.
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 were printed in England and designed with anti-counterfeiting features. Standing before giant versions of the new notes, Jaburi pointed to the color-changing images, watermarks, embedded security thread, and raised letters meant to discourage counterfeiters.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon said that U.S. agents assisted by Iraqi police had broken up a counterfeiting operation and seized 100 billion in fake dinars. With fluctuating exchange rates recently, that would amount to anywhere from $30 million to $70 million.
Some Iraqis expressed doubts the new currency will help shore up the devastated economy.
Surrounding al-Firdos Square (search), where a towering Saddam statue once stood, dozens of money changers have set up with black plastic bags and cardboard boxes full of Iraqi dinars.
Thumbing through a well-worn stack of bills, Sulaiman Abdul-Jaber, 43, said he doesn't anticipate any major positive changes.
"We are living in a bad situation that's getting worse. Our economy has collapsed. The market is not stable. I expect that when the new currency is issued, the rate of the dollar will rise," he said.
Others say a new currency will make little difference. In cash-hungry Baghdad, dollars, once illegal tender, are now the currency of choice.
Laith Dinkha, 35, whose family owns several electronics stores in Baghdad, said he typically quotes prices for his appliances — air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves — in dollars only.
"We are dealing with bigger items in dollars, not dinars," he said. "That will not change."
Still, others say a new national currency is needed.
"All people welcome something new," said teacher Bashar Mohammed, 24. "This represents a new start."
A severe shortage of Iraqi dinars led U.S. administrators in June to order the printing of millions of new dinar notes, even though they bore Saddam's likeness. The coalition continues to print millions of the old bills each day.