Protests at Iraq's Central Bank amid currency crash and economic woes

Riot police cordoned off the area as activists gathered near the building

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Hundreds of Iraqis gathered in front of the Central Bank's headquarters in Baghdad on Wednesday to protest over the currency inflation crisis.

Security officials were sent to safeguard the headquarters as riot police cordoned off the area as dozens of activists gathered near the Central Bank building.

However, no clashes or arrests were made.

“Our demands are clear: government must intervene to stop the decline of dinar value because we’re suffering from high prices in local markets,” said Asaad Khudhaer, a labourer who came to the protest from the southern city of Najaf.

“Stop the neighbours stealing our dollars,” one banner read, referring to Iran.

Some merchants in the surrounding area also closed down their shops and joined the protesters, some raising placards that read “the politicians are the ones covering up financial corruption for the banks.”

The protesters, mainly young people, rallied amid a heavy security presence in the capital.

Protesters were seen waving Iraqi flags in Baghdad early on Wednesday, and protests then spread to different regions, with people demanding government intervention to stop the decline of the currency.

Activists close to the Sadrist and youth-led Tishreen movement, as well as civil rights groups, had called for gatherings outside the bank on Wednesday after a week-long plunge of the Iraqi dinar that led Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani to sack Central Bank chief Mustafa Ghaleb Mukheef.

The demonstrations were expected and a journalist from The National confirmed early on Wednesday that several groups of people had been seen crossing Al Shuhadaa (Martyrs') Bridge that leads to the bank.

The Iraqi dinar hit new lows on Friday, reaching about 1,670 to the dollar on the street. The currency has lost nearly 7 per cent of its value since mid-November. The official rate stands at 1,470 dinars per dollar.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday announced the arrest overnight of suspects accused of “manipulating” dollar exchange rates in Kirkuk and Erbil.

Mr Al Sudani is expected to travel to Paris on Thursday where he will meet the French leadership.

He said the drop in the dinar’s value would be top of his agenda as part of discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Al Sudani dismissed the previous bank governor and appointed its former chief Ali Mohsen Al Alaq on Monday to replace him in an attempt to assuage public anger over the currency crisis.

Mr Al Alaq previously led the Central Bank from 2014 to 2020.

The US has been complaining that the dollar is being funnelled to Iran, Syria and Lebanon through a foreign currency auction run by the Central Bank of Iraq. Iran and Syria are under US sanctions.

Updated: January 25, 2023, 5:15 PM