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8 Iraqi banks hit with U.S. dollar ban - What you need to know now!


8 Iraqi banks hit with U.S. dollar ban

Iraq has recently taken a decisive step by banning eight local commercial banks from engaging in U.S. dollar transactions. This move comes in response to concerns about fraud, money laundering, and other illicit activities involving U.S. currency.


The decision is particularly noteworthy as it follows a visit by a senior U.S. Treasury official, indicating a heightened focus on addressing financial irregularities and reinforcing the importance of international cooperation in combating financial crimes.


The banned banks now find themselves excluded from participating in the Iraqi central bank's daily dollar auction—a crucial channel for acquiring hard currency in a country heavily dependent on imports. This action is part of a broader effort to combat currency smuggling, especially concerning transactions with neighboring Iran, a nation subject to increased scrutiny by U.S. authorities.



The ban not only serves as a deterrent to the involved banks but also reflects Iraq's commitment to aligning its financial system with international standards, as well as curbing the misuse of its banking infrastructure for illegal activities.


Despite Iraq's unique position as a rare ally to both the United States and Iran, with substantial reserves held in the U.S. exceeding $100 billion, the country remains reliant on maintaining good relations with Washington. Ensuring continued access to oil revenues and financial resources hinges on navigating these complex diplomatic and economic dynamics.


The ban on these banks signals Iraq's commitment to implementing measures that safeguard its financial system and maintain its credibility on the international stage.



The central bank's official document, listing the prohibited banks, includes notable names such as Ahsur International Bank for Investment, Investment Bank of Iraq, Union Bank of Iraq, Kurdistan International Islamic Bank for Investment and Development, Al Huda Bank, Al Janoob Islamic Bank for Investment and Finance, Saudi Islamic Bank, and Hammurabi Commercial Bank.


The specificity of these identified banks underscores the seriousness of the issue and provides transparency in the regulatory process.


Despite the gravity of the situation, key figures within the affected banks, including the head of Iraq's private bank association, have not provided immediate responses. Reuters is actively seeking comments from the other implicated banks, shedding light on the unfolding developments. The lack of immediate responses adds an element of uncertainty and underscores the potential impact on these financial institutions and their stakeholders.



A Treasury spokesman expressed support for the Central Bank of Iraq's actions, acknowledging the steps taken to safeguard the Iraqi financial system from abuse. The spokesman emphasized that these efforts have enabled legitimate Iraqi banks to establish international connectivity through correspondent banking relationships. This international support adds credibility to Iraq's regulatory measures and positions it as a responsible player in the global financial landscape.


This recent move echoes a similar development in July 2023 when Iraq banned 14 banks from conducting dollar transactions, aligning with a broader crackdown on dollar smuggling to Iran.


The decision was made following a request from Washington, underscoring the collaborative efforts between the two nations in addressing financial misconduct. The continuity of such measures signifies an ongoing commitment to addressing systemic issues and strengthening international financial integrity.


Despite the restrictions on dollar transactions, the central bank clarifies that the banned banks are permitted to continue their operations and engage in transactions using other currencies. This nuanced approach seeks to balance regulatory measures with the continuity of essential banking functions. It reflects an understanding of the interconnected nature of global financial markets and the need to prevent unintended consequences while addressing specific challenges.



In the backdrop of these financial maneuvers, the U.S. Treasury Department's top sanctions official, Brian Nelson, engaged in discussions with top Iraqi officials in Baghdad. The focus of these talks revolved around protecting both the Iraqi and international financial systems from criminal, corrupt, and terrorist activities.


Notably, during the visit, action was announced against Al-Huda Bank, which was implicated in diverting billions of U.S. dollars to Iranian-backed groups. This targeted action sends a strong signal about the commitment to holding financial wrongdoers accountable and disrupting illicit financial flows.


The U.S. expects Iraq to play a more active role in countering Iran-backed armed groups operating within its borders. This call for cooperation follows the killing of three U.S. soldiers, attributed to hardline Iraqi factions.



The complexities of Iraq's political landscape, intertwined with the influence of Iran-backed parties and armed groups, underscore the challenges in addressing financial misconduct within the highly informal economy. It highlights the delicate balance Iraq must strike between internal political dynamics and international expectations, particularly from the United States.


Despite these challenges, there is a recognition of positive steps taken by the current Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. Collaboration with Western officials in implementing economic and financial reforms reflects a commitment to align the Iraqi economy with international standards, ultimately curbing the ability of Iran and its allies to access U.S. dollars.


The ongoing efforts signify a delicate dance between diplomatic relations, economic stability, and the imperative to combat financial wrongdoing. Iraq's willingness to undertake reforms and cooperate with international partners portrays a forward-looking approach to ensure its financial system's integrity and stability.


04.02.2024



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