Iraqi dinar under a magnifying glass

Did you know that in Japan, banknotes are printed with the images of famous scientists and writers? The recent debate in the United States regarding a woman on a major bill made everyone take a good look at what currency means to a country. That’s why taking a closer look at the art and design on the Iraqi dinar can give us valuable insight into the history, values, ideals, and culture of the country.

The History of the Iraqi Dinar

The Iraqi dinar was introduced in 1932 to replace the Indian Rupee, in circulation in Iraq ever since the British occupation after WWI. Before the Gulf War, dinars were printed in Switzerland, using high-quality printing methods. However, in 1991, UN sanctions prevented these Swiss-printed dinars, and Iraqi currency was instead printed locally, or in China, using inferior methods and quality. Notes printed between 1991 and 2003 are full of inconsistencies, and printed on wood pulp paper (instead of linen or cotton like most modern notes). This era saw a lot of forgery, sometimes of a better quality than the officially printed notes. The previously printed notes became known as Swiss dinar, and though they were disendorsed by the government, they held their value better than official dinars, and remained in high circulation in the Kurdish region of the country.

Saddam Hussein’s Era

Swiss dinars that were printed until 1990 featured only one portrait of Saddam Hussein, in later printings. The series printed during Hussein’s golden era featured an idealized portrait of President Hussein on just about every note. He’s depicted on a horse, before the Ishtar gate, before famous monuments and fortresses. The message is obvious: like Caesar of old, the President was the absolute authority and government. After Hussein’s overthrow, the new notes went back to designs closer to those present before Hussein’s rule.

2004 saw the introduction of a new kind of dinar. With the lift of UN sanctions, new currency was printed with anti-forgery tech, and exchanged at a 1-to-1 rate, in an attempt to make the cheap printings of the Gulf War obsolete. Interestingly enough, the old Swiss dinars were worth 150 new dinars each.

Modern Design and Depictions

One of the most interesting features of the new dinar design is that it includes Kurdish language and individuals as well as Arabic, showing more integration in the country. Here are some other notable depictions on modern Iraqi currency:

Alhazen

Abu Ali Hasan Ibn al-Haitham (known to many Westerners as Alhazen for short) was an Arab scientist, mathematician, and philosopher living about 1000 AD. He is known as one of the first theoretical physicists, and exercised the now-well-known scientific method hundreds of years before the scientists of the Renaissance. His depiction on the 10,000-dinar note, along with the astrolabe depicted on the 250-dinar note, honor the scientific achievements of Iraq’s history.

Hammurabi’s Code

The Code of Hammurabi is a tablet containing a law system from ancient Mesopotamia as old as 1754 BC. This is one of the world’s first written records of the Rule of Law, wherein definitive rules were set forth and enacted as a universal code to which even the King was subject. This artifact reflects Iraq’s place as a cradle of early civilization.

Great Mosque of Samarra

Recognizable for its spiral minaret, this structure was built in 851 AD. For a long time, it was the largest mosque in the world. The mosque itself was destroyed in 1278 AD, but its minaret and outer wall still stand as an example of beautiful religious architecture. The Great Mosque of Samarra has been featured on Iraqi banknotes throughout all of the changes in recent decades. This depiction on the 250-dinar note honors Iraqi history and art, as well as showing the essential place that religion holds in Iraq’s history and culture.