Iraqi money free of Hussein’s face

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Behind a shield of American armor, Iraqis began trading in their old money Wednesday, exchanging dinar notes bearing pictures of Saddam Hussein for new bills the U.S. occupation authorities hope will become the currency of a revived economy.

The anti-American insurgency continued, as U.S. forces reported killing "a small number of opposing forces" near the desert border with Syria, and killing two Iraqis in a clash north of Baghdad, in an area with lingering support for the fugitive ex-president Hussein.

"He’s gone, and now his picture is gone, too," said Bank of Baghdad worker Raghad Kandala, 28, as businessmen and other customers lined up to hand in their expiring "Saddam" banknotes.

Although it was the first day for the new bills, the flow of bank customers seemed nearly normal. Iraqis have until Jan. 15 to make the exchange, and many had already deposited old notes in bank accounts in recent weeks. "So there’s no need for a stampede," said Mowafaq Mahmood, chief executive officer of the private Bank of Baghdad.

Some Baghdad residents also stayed away out of fear that pro-Hussein militants might target banks on this day, in a city rocked by three suicide car bombings in just the past week.

"That’s why we’ve got American protection," said Mahmood, whose headquarters bank on Karrada, a downtown avenue, was guarded by a Bradley armored vehicle, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police, and razor-wire barricades. Similar security was thrown around other banks.

The recent bombings, which left about 20 dead, have further strained nerves in an already-tense city. American helicopters buzzed central Baghdad throughout the day Wednesday as U.S. and Iraqi security forces tightened controls around the Palestine Hotel, home to international journalists and U.S. contractors, because of a reported threat.

Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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