| A pile of old Iraqi 10,000 dinar notes burn in a Central Bank furnace in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, Oct. 11 (Reuters): Iraq’s central bank fired up its furnace today and consigned thousands of banknotes bearing the smiling face of Saddam Hussein to the flames ahead of a massive currency swap to start next week.
Deputy Central Bank governor Ahmed Salman Mohammed said the central bank had already absorbed a “good portion” of Saddam banknotes still in circulation and would carry on with the systematic destruction in coming weeks.
Iraqis have three months from October 15 to swap the estimated four trillion dinars of Saddam bank notes in circulation for new bills bearing pictures of an ancient Babylonian ruler and a 10th century Iraqi mathematician. The Iraqi dinar is worth about 2,000 to the dollar.
“I am optimistic it will go well,” Mohammed said in the lobby of the Iraqi central bank where tellers counted tall dinar stacks. “Most of it (the currency swap) could be over in one month.”
The US-led administration in Iraq has ordered all images of Saddam to be removed from monuments, murals and school textbooks. But in the months following the war it was forced to print billions of dinars of banknotes bearing the face of Saddam to ease a shortage of low-denomination banknotes.
Several floors below the central bank lobby in a furnace room opposite the vast doors of one of the vaults, workers threw bundles of Saddam bills into the fire and raked the flaming notes deeper into the inferno.
Adnan Chalabi, manager of the furnaces, said about half-a-billion to one billion dinars could be in the furnace. Currency is burned weekly by the central bank, he said.
US troops hunting Iraqi guerrillas raided houses in Saddam Hussein’s hometown today, arresting four men including two who officers said were former members of the fugitive dictator’s security force.
In Baghdad, the president of the governing council said it was still locked in dispute with Washington over controversial plans to deploy Turkish troops in Iraq.