Monday, March 16, 2009

Iraqi Dinars: How Saddam Turned Back the Clock

Pre-Saddam Dinars (same design on a current Iraqi dinar top) showed industrial progress while Saddam-era Dinars emphasized the past

Two of the neatest postcards I have sent back to my family are of Iraqi dinars from the 1970s and 1990s. When I bought the postcards I quickly noticed two key differences. The 1990s money postcard had Saddam's image along with glorified images from Arab and Iraqi history. The pre-Saddam 1970s dinars lacked any leader's image and displayed symbols of progress like ports, dams, and factories. After talking to Iraqis and others it became clear how Saddam turned Iraq's clock back. Saddam's actions are striking when compared to neighboring Syria which is ruled by a fellow Baathist.

The Baath Party movement was started by a Syrian Greek Orthodox named Michel Aflaq. The movement's goal was the unification of all Arabs under one state and the removal of outside colonial powers in the region. Domestically it is socialist and its anti-democratic stance combines elements of Hitler and Stalin. At first its followers were primarily in the military or intellectual class, this included a large number of Christian Arabs. Baathism quickly became popular along with the greater pan-Arab movement led by the Egyptian President Gamel Nassar. In the 1960s the Baath Party managed to seize power in Syria and Iraq.

At first both the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties emphasized progress. Women's rights were expanded, industry developed, secularization enforced with the abolition of many Sharia laws and protections for minorities beliefs like Christianity (Jews though still suffered through periods of persecution because of strong anti-Israel sentiments).

Syria developed a cult of personality based around its leader Hafez al-Assad. Hafez made sure that he was tied into the nation's progress. Assad's son and successor, Bashar, has been unable to keep the same level of personality cult alive. He has somewhat accepted this fact. Today his main push to show how he is the node that connects the past and the future together. This is demonstrated on the Syrian Pound which has images of Syria's past and present on them.

Iraq's managed to avoid a leadership cult until the 1980s when Saddam managed to prove his permanence. Before that Iraqi money lacked any leader's image and had images of modernization. When Saddam's cult flourished images of the leader appeared with Arab horsemen, ziggurats, and alike. Saddam kept Baathist secularization in place until the Iraqi defeat during the 1991 Gulf War. After that "God is Great" was added to the Iraqi flag and persecution of Iraqi Christians began in the north. As the sanctions impacted Iraq more and more, the personality cult increased and Baathist-led progress decreased. Women still had rights but Saddam emphasized the role of men as leaders of the family, women began wearing head scarves more, and Iraq began to scale back scientific, liberal education.

When Saddam was deposed the new Iraqi dinars were a combination of de-Saddamed and pre-Saddam dinar designs. Today Iraqi dinars follow the example of the Syrian pound by having both historic and present-day images.

A great learning exercise to study foreign currencies. What is on their bills? Draw conclusions about each country based on their money and then study the country to see if you are correct.

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