Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq Gets Plastic Cash

The first-ever credit card is launched under a plan to modernise banking.
By Duraed Salman

In a country where cash is king, the arrival of Iraq’s first credit card has been greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism.

The Trade Bank of Iraq launched the Visa card at a ceremony on May 9, as part of its plan to lift the economy and revive the banking system, which collapsed after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Ten cash machines have also been set up in Baghdad.

The bank has so far issued its card to just 150 people, carefully chosen because they have both a bank account and a good credit rating. However, Hussein Isam al-Azari, the Trade Bank's chief executive, expects to see 1,500 cardholders within a month.

After a one-off charge of 50,000 dinars (34 US dollars), the card can be used at 100 banks, hotels and government offices.

“This service is very good,” said Jawad Ali, a new Visa customer. “We've been looking for this for years since it facilitates many financial transactions.”

Satar Abdullah, a trader in electronic equipment, is yet to be convinced, saying he is unsure how credit cards actually work. “We've only seen them in the movies,” he explained.

Iraq is a cash economy with many people opting to keep their money at home rather than in the bank.

Bank officials say the cards are useful both because they are better than cheques, which are easily counterfeited, and offer an alternative to carrying large amounts of cash around in the present dangerous security climate.

Economist Abdul Sattar Majul expects the cards to be popular, since he believes Iraqis have an appetite for anything new things after years of isolation.

“Iraqis adapt quickly to new technologies because they're eager to copy the developed countries,” said Majul. “That’s why these cards will be a success.”

Duraed Salman is an IWPR trainee in Iraq.