- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

BAGHDAD — Nawwas, a clerk in the literature department of the University of Baghdad, was feeling more agitation than excitement this week in anticipation of the $20 she would soon receive from the U.S. government.The money, a one-time cash gift, is aimed at helping civil servants tide over until the transitional administration can sort out the salary structure and resume payments.”I need the money, and I will accept it gratefully,” she said this week as she surveyed the wrecked landscape of her department. “But what we really need is security and work. I want to work, and it doesn’t look like we will be able to do that for many weeks.”The Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of one-time emergency payments in southern and central Iraq, including the capital, Baghdad. The program is to extend farther north, into the Kurdish areas, by next week.Thousands of government workers have received the payments, the beneficiaries set to top 1 million by next week. U.S. officials estimate that 2.5 million Iraqis could be eligible for the money, paid in U.S. one-, five- and ten-dollar bills.The currency has been doled out to reward employees for returning to work, a top priority for U.S. forces now that President Bush has proclaimed an end to major ground engagements.In a broadcast to the Iraqi public yesterday, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. ground forces, urged citizens to go back to their jobs and to end all acts of sabotage and looting.Besides winning the hearts of the Iraqi middle class, the massive distribution of small-denomination bills is meant to stabilize an economy in free-fall.The payments have been given to police, firefighters, teachers, ministry officials, library and utility employees, and others.David Nummy, ORHA’s senior adviser to the Iraqi finance ministry, told reporters this week that the program’s cost, as well as wages for the next few months, will be covered by up to $1.3 billion worth of frozen assets belonging to the former Iraqi regime.The cash itself has been in storage since 1999, when the Clinton administration ordered the Treasury Department to print billions of dollars in emergency cash reserves in case of a millennium-ending digital meltdown.That money has been sitting shrink-wrapped in vaults for the past four years.Some Iraqis and their U.S. advisers still doubt whether the handout will have the desired economic effect.Nawwas, who asked that her last name not be used, fears that the distribution will exacerbate the inflation that in recent weeks has sharply driven up the price of many consumer goods, from soft drinks and eggs to gasoline.Capt. Mike Self, a reservist from Greensboro, N.C., said the bonus payments were “exactly like” the $300 refunds President Bush distributed to U.S. taxpayers in his first year in office.”But unlike Americans, the Iraqis don’t have credit-card debt to pay off,” said Capt. Self, who is working to train the Baghdad police force.Burdened by 12 years of sanctions, Iraq is a cash economy with no credit cards, wire transfers or automated teller machines. U.S. dollars are more highly valued than the fluctuating Iraqi dinar.The first cash disbursements were chaotic, but the Army and ORHA have learned from the experience. This week, payments to 316 senior Baghdad police officers were made relatively smoothly.The officers filed into a room in small groups, posed for ID pictures and filled out registration forms before collecting four crisp $5 bills apiece.For many Iraqis, $20 is a substantial sum; the average Baghdad policeman’s salary is about $12 a month, and laborers outside the capital are now earning about $8 a month. But clearly some policemen have been accustomed to earning considerably more, either on or off the books.”This is what? A few kilos of meat? It is candy for babies,” said Capt. Raade Abdullah as he shoved the money into his pocket.Maj. Nejam al Deen said the money, which he described as enough for two or three days, “is not impressive.”“But I am a policeman, so I shall take it,” he said.


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