| An Iraqi electricity company employee receives his salary in Baghdad on Saturday. (Reuters)
Baghdad, May 24 (Reuters): The US civil administration paid out today the first government wages to Iraqis since the US-led war, doling out dinars bearing the face of Saddam Hussein to thousands of Baghdad electricity workers.
It hopes the payments — set eventually to reach about 1.4 million civil servants and ranging from $80 to $400 a month — will send a signal that normal life is returning to the country after weeks of chaos and deteriorating security conditions.
“Its a start, a good start and the rest will get paid through the rest of the week,” said Jay Garner, the outgoing director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). The almost 40,000 electricity employees are a top priority as they struggle to restore power to the capital.
They have been ambushed by looters stealing cables and equipment, a main factor that has delayed the return of essential services to the city of five million, Karim Hassan, now running Iraq’s electricity commission, said.
Hassan said he would collect his own wages under a scheme set by ORHA that raises most salaries and eliminates the bonuses set up under Saddam to reward loyalists. “We have all been working for some time and this is the first money we are getting from our salaries,” he said.
But some workers have reacted badly to being paid in much-shunned 10,000 dinar notes.
Iraqi merchants have for weeks refused to honour the 10,000 bills at full face value, sometimes discounting them by almost half, citing rumours the notes had been declared unacceptable after a major heist at the central bank.
“The wages will be paid in 10,000 bills. There is nothing wrong with them, it is legal tender,” said Diaa al Khayoun, general manager of Rafidain, one of the banks handing money out.
He spoke as white armoured trucks delivered dinars and dollars, in white sacks stamped by the US Federal Reserve, to a Rafidain branch where it was counted and sent out to the electricity workers.
Workers will get a separate $30 dollar stipend in addition to their dinar salaries now set between 100,000 to 500,000 dinars ($80-$400) in central and southern governorates.
The $30 dollar payment comes on top of a $20 per head payment ORHA began disbursing several weeks ago in a bid to jump-start the economy.
ORHA has also started $40 payments for 1.8 million Iraqi pensioners and their dependents.