Dozens protest in front of Iraq central bank after US blacklist of Iraqi banks

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Dozens of people protested in front of the Central Bank of Iraq in Baghdad and bank owners called for official action to stem a sharp increase in the dollar exchange rate Wednesday, after the United States blacklisted 14 Iraqi banks.

Over the past two days, the market rate of the dollar jumped from 1,470 dinar per dollar to 1,570 dinar per dollar. The jump came after the US listed 14 private Iraqi banks among banks that are banned from dealing with US dollars due to suspicions of money laundering and funneling funds to Iran.

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The ban was imposed by the US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on July 19.

“The listing of almost one third of the private banks as banned from dealing with the US dollar will have negative consequences from many perspectives,” Haidar al Shamaa, owner of a private bank in Baghdad said at a news conference Wednesday.

He called on “the brothers at the Iraqi government to work ... to undo the damage which occurred to us specifically, and to the Iraqi banking section in general.”

The 14 banks facing the ban issued a joint statement urging the Iraqi government to address the issue and warning that banning a third of Iraq’s private banks from dollar trading would not only impact the dollar price but hinder foreign investment.

Protesters organized by a group calling itself Thuwar Tishreen (October Revolutionaries), which is connected to a movement that started mass protests in Iraq in 2021, also demanded that the government take action to halt inflation.

Also on Wednesday, central bank chief Ali al-Allaq told the state-run Iraqi News Agency that his institution continues to provide dollars at the official rate of 1,320 dinar to the dollar for “all legitimate transactions” including “remittances and credits for various imports.”

He blamed the current rise in the street price of the dollar on the “reluctance of certain merchants” who “do not practice legitimate activities and operations” to use the official electronic platform used for currency requests.

On Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al Sudani met with al-Allaq and discussed measures to stabilize the dinar price against the dollar.

A similar dive in the value of the dinar took place earlier this year after measures taken by the United States late last year to stamp out money laundering and the channeling of dollars to Iran and Syria from Iraq severely restricted Iraq’s access to hard currency.

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