And there’s big business being done around the damaged bank notes in Iraq. Yousef Nafea has an exchange shop in Basra’s central Ashar market and he’s well known for his proficiency at fixing the damaged notes; he says he mostly uses transparent sellotape and that he heats it slightly to make the repairs invisible. Visiting him, one immediately notices the piles of notes on his desk.
"I fix the damaged one, half and quarter dinar banknotes and sometimes I fix the hundred and the IQD1,000 banknotes too,” he explains. “If I am asked to fix the US$100 note then I have to take great care. Fixing these notes requires that the tape is cut in a special way so it doesn’t look like the bank note was damaged at all.”
This kind of repair business is also done by local housewives. Rabab Hussein is one of them and she says she uses sellotape and clear nail polish. “The bank notes are often not only damaged, they are also dirty,” Hussein says. “And they’re ugly. And they’re not good quality, which is why they get damaged so easily,” she concludes.
After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein’s government, new currency was introduced and the bank notes were printed by a British company, De La Rue. Despite repeated calls for the bank notes to be reissued and the currency to be re-denominated, this has yet to happen.
Hamid Ghani, the manager of the Iraqi Investment Bank’s branch in Basra believes that a vicious circle of profiteering has developed because of the damaged bank notes in smaller denominations. “The exchange shops make agreements with the bankers – and in some cases, with the bank managers – to replace the smaller notes with bigger ones, in return for a service fee,” Ghani explains. “The service fee is deposited at the bank, in the exchange shop owner’s account. He then withdraws that money in larger, undamaged denominations. In some cases, this equals millions of Iraqi dinars.”
Indeed, exchanging one’s smaller bank notes for larger ones at local exchange shops – at a rate of IQD8,000 per million dinars – is common practice today.