“Sorry, We’re Out of Money”: Banks in Iraqi Kurdistan Out of Cash
Locals in Iraqi Kurdistan have found themselves unable to withdraw cash from their banks, despite the fact that they have enough in their accounts. It’s a liquidity problem that recurs every year around this time. Some financial analysts suspect a plot and locals have started keeping their cash under the bed.
Nawzat Qader is standing helplessly in front of a bank in the city of Sulaymaniyah, in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He had wanted to withdraw a small amount of money, so that he could cover his family’s needs over the New Year period. He had deposited IQD800,000 a few weeks ago (around US$500) but when he went to the bank to withdraw it, he was told that the bank had no cash and that he would have to wait.
“How is this possible?” Qader complained loudly. “How is it that I go to my bank to withdraw money that I know I have but I must return home empty handed? How can we trust our banks when things like this happen?”
This has become a common problem for banks in the region around this time of year. Iraqi Kurdistan, in Iraq’s north, operates mostly independently of Baghdad and has its own legislature, military and parliament. However what it does not seem to have enough of is cash. Every year toward the end of the fiscal year the problems become more obvious; it’s also led to delays in salary pay outs for government employees.
“Banks here don’t function the way modern banks do,” says Ali Hama Salih, formerly host of a TV show that uncovered corruption who’s now a politician for the anti-corruption Change movement. “The banking system here has failed.”
“People have lost confidence in the banking system because of these crises in liquidity,” agrees Hawar Sheikh Raouf, of Iraq’s Mansour Bank, which is half owned by the Qatar National Bank; the latter is regarded as one of the Middle East’s safest. “The poor services offered by some of these banks don’t help either.”