There are a number of things that are difficult to assess if you have not been to Baghdad. One is that it is an entirely cash culture. Even the hotels require payment in cash only--no credit cards, and no travelers checks accepted. I therefore needed to find a bank capable of handling a money transfer. Most of the banks in the area have little capacity, essentially offering exchange services. I was told by one of the smaller local banks that there was a bank on Rasheed Street which could handle a transfer. I arranged for a ride with Majdi, one of my semi-regular taxi drivers. Rasheed Street was closed off to traffic, so we had to park on a side street and walk. The street was a picture of the miracle of commerce. Carts were everywhere, loaded as heavily as possible with televisions, computers, and satellite dishes. Modern western clothing was displayed in shop windows and sold by street vendors. The street was packed with people. It looks like what one would expect in a thriving Middle-Eastern bazaar.
Majdi speaks some English--enough to be of assistance in the journey, but sufficiently little so as to make the trip interesting. When we arrived at the bank, there was a security checkpoint some distance from the entrance. We were then escorted by an Iraqi police officer into the bank. But, thanks in part to miscommunication somewhere along the line, this was not the correct bank. This was the Central Bank. The Central Bank is essentially the Federal Reserve and Mint of Iraq rolled into one. As we entered, employeees were wheeling out blocks of Iraqi Dinars that were as large as suitcases. Another reporter had told that on a trip to the Central Bank he had seen the main currency room, which held something like 7 Trillion Dinars (the Dinar currently trades at roughly 1400 Dinars to 1 US Dollar). The Central Bank referred me to another bank, which ultimately sent me to still another bank which could in fact do the transaction. While stuck in traffic, I began to hear gun shots coming from Rasheed Street. Majdi explained that "Rasheed Street is very bad. Ali baba." As we sat in traffic, there was more gunfire, and closer gunfire. Majdi just shook his head, "Ali baba." And again, the pattern of the terrorists hold true. Rasheed Street is thriving. It is filled with locals. It is therefore a target.
After several hours of trying to find a bank, we finally arrived to meet the friendliest banker I have ever met. As we walked in the door, we were offered Turkish coffee or Chai. As I prepared to leave, he expressed regret. "It is lunch time, and I have not given you anything to eat." I said that this was O.K. He said, "Alright, but next time." Yes, next time. And with that, Majdi and I were on our way.