By Mohammed Hamid al-Sawaf.
Unofficial money changers are common in Iraq – and trade is particularly brisk in the tourist town of Karbala. But recently a gang of fraudsters swapping outdated Polish zloty have caused fear and consternation in the city’s markets.
A licensed currency exchange office delivered the bad news: yes, the money that Karbala woman, who wished only to be known as Umm Mahmoud, or the mother of Mahmoud, had brought was real. But, no, unfortunately, this version of the currency – Polish zloty – was no longer in use. The woman had been duped.
Umm Mahmoud began to cry – she realized that she had become the victim of a gang of con men operating in Karbala. And she has not been the only one.
Because of the amount of tourists coming to Karbala – the city boasts some of the most holy sites in the world for Shiite Muslims and attracts millions of pilgrims every year – it has been easier for fraudsters to fool local traders and merchants here. Local police say that they recently arrested the gang who outwitted Umm Mahmoud but, judging by other complaints, it seems likely that more than one of these gangs is working in Karbala.
Umm Mahmoud told NIQASH how she was tricked into exchanging about IQD5 million (around US$3,000) for worthless paper. Most of the time she buys and sells used clothes in Karbala city but occasionally she has dabbled in unofficial currency exchange, selling Iraqi currency to, for example, visitors from Asia or the Gulf States.