Desperate Iraqis sell jewelry

July 25, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Jewelry stores are doing a bustling business in Saddam City, the sprawling, poor section where 1.5 million Baghdad residents live. But the jewelers are not making many sales.

Women are selling their jewelry -- items from their dowries or gifts from their husbands, a family's life savings in a place where people do not have bank accounts -- to raise cash to buy food and other goods.

This is Iraq today, a country trying to cope with a changed economy, with fears of attack from abroad and of civil unrest within, and with the aftermath of a decade of almost continuous war.

Even as President Bush vowed recently that the United States would not permit the "suffering of innocent women and children" in war-ravaged Iraq, prices of flour, rice and sugar have doubled in recent weeks as Iraqis have stocked up out of fear that renewed U.S. air attacks are coming.

Goods are coming into Iraq from neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Iran.

But the smuggled items are expensive. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of sugar costs a day's pay; a kilo of meat costs almost three day's pay for a government worker. The average worker made about 200 dinars a month before the war.

The official exchange rate remains $3.20 for each Iraqi dinar. But the currency's true purchasing power is closer to the black market exchange rate -- used openly by banks in Jordan and almost in the Baghdad market place -- of 7.5 dinars for $1.

In some well-to-do neighborhoods of the city, no house has been spared from burglary; car theft is epidemic. Stolen cars are broken up for spare parts.

Foreign embassies report constant applications for visas. But, at the request of the Iraqi government, they are not giving out travel documents.

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