Saad Saleh Salman stood in a long line of men whose shoes and sandals stirred up dust as they inched their way toward the entrance to the passport office in the capital's Mansour district.
Salman, 65, his head covered by a red-and-white-checkered scarf, was eager to get inside the small concrete security hut. It was not yet 8 in the morning, and he had already been waiting more than an hour to apply for a passport with the seal of Iraq's new interim government.
"I wonder if there is someone I can give money to to finish my passport," he said, not bothering to drop his voice as he looked around at the growing crowd.
Iraqis have been flooding passport bureaus in Baghdad since the new government began issuing the documents this month, creating an instant backlog of applications and, almost as quickly, a system of bribes to negotiate through it.
Although the new passport officially costs 50 cents, people are paying $100 or more in bribes or other considerations for one of the coveted green booklets, a price too steep for many Iraqis. Passport bureau managers deny that such abuses are occurring in their offices, but Iraqis who have applied for passports say the system, just three weeks old, is already corrupted, deepening their doubts about the interim administration and the chances that it will pave the way for a genuinely democratic government.
At the same time, counterfeiters in the Muraidi Market in Baghdad's Sadr City district are turning out fake documents with machines and stamps looted from passport bureaus after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government last year, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. Though Iraq's new passports are smaller than the Hussein-era documents and have different markings, the sources say counterfeiters are using their contacts in government offices to obtain the new plates and designs.
Lt. Col. Khaled Hassan Akeely, manager of the Mansour passport office, did not deny that some people might be paying higher prices for passports but said his employees were not involved. "I can't say there is no corruption, but not in my office," he said, shaking his head angrily at the question. "We are doing our job in a good way, and I am watching my employees."
Under Hussein, most Iraqis were not allowed to travel outside the country. Those who obtained permission had to pay high prices for their passports. Now that Iraqis can travel freely again, tens of thousands are clamoring to take advantage, overwhelming the passport bureaus.
Abdul Hussain, 21, an Iraqi medical student who lives in London but returned in February on a religious pilgrimage, said that because Iraqis became accustomed to paying bribes for government services under Hussein, it would require a "gargantuan" effort to ensure that the new system was run honestly.
"When these poor people are told they will be issued passports and allowed to travel as far as Paris, when they could not even travel between towns without hassle, they are understandably ecstatic," Hussain said. "When delays occur, their natural instinct is to put their hands in their pockets and offer a few thousand dinars."
Hussain said his grandmother, who lives in Iraq, applied in January for a visa to visit Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage. The Interior Ministry, which oversees passport and visa services, issues such travel documents based on age, on whether an applicant has made the pilgrimage before and on whether there is a martyr in the family. Hussain said his grandmother, whose husband was killed by Hussein's government, was told that her application had been approved. But when she went to pick up her papers, she was told that she could not go and would have to apply next year.
"Naturally, she was bewildered and devastated," Hussain said. "But after a few inquiries, it transpired that her name and number was sold to another person by officials in the ministry who were bribed. Now, to explain to a 65-year-old, illiterate widow that the new Iraq was a democratic one was a tough enough job, but this just made it impossible."
At the bureau in the Baghdad neighborhood of Zayuna last week, tensions rose with the heat. Inside, an employee threw a folder into the face of a man who was arguing about when he would get his passport.
Outside, Ahmed Jassim, 20, sat on the edge of a concrete barrier, waiting for his father, who had disappeared inside. "It's very hot for him," Jassim said. "He is an old man. We have been doing this for the last five days." Jassim said his father wanted a passport to travel to Iran to visit a religious site.
Nearby, a balding man with wisps of gray hair and a large belly waited with his wife. "Even the animals get more respect than us," said the man, who did not give his name.
At the Mansour bureau, a woman complained about bribes. "We have waited in this line for five days, and there is nothing," said the woman, who would not give her name for fear that she would never get a passport. "No one receives his passport, just the people who pay $100 for one." A group of woman surrounding her clucked their tongues in agreement.
Akeely, the bureau manager, said such impatience was unfair. His 18 employees had processed 3,500 passports since the office opened, working overtime to do it, he said, noting that the office receives 450 applications a day.
On the wall behind him in his office hung a poster advertising a new Iraqi cell phone company. On another wall were two framed verses from the Koran. One of them read: "I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn . . . and from the mischief of the envious one as he practices envy."
Akeely took a key out of his pocket and opened a drawer in the desk. He pulled out a sheet of shiny silver stickers. Each passport receives a sticker, validating it as an official document of the new government. Stacks of passports still wrapped in plastic stood on narrow shelves inside a six-foot-high safe.
As Akeely walked through the bureau, people waiting in the shorter lines inside the building seemed to know that the rotund, blue-eyed man was in charge, even though he wore no badge.
A woman in a gray scarf with a drawn, tired-looking face pleaded with Akeely to give her a passport on the spot.
"Go and wait your turn in the line outside," he said. "I cannot help you like this."
After the woman walked away, a young couple approached. The man, who later gave his first name as Arif, wore glasses. He had a smooth, round face and short dark hair. A petite woman with black curly hair stood silently at his side, as Arif, 37, explained to Akeely that he was seeking a passport for the 28-year-old woman, his fiancee. He wanted to marry her and take her to Libya, where he had been working for the past eight years as a physician.
But Akeely, citing a traditional Iraqi law, said the fiancee could not get a passport unless she was accompanied to the bureau by her father or mother.
Outside again, Arif fought back angry tears.
"I love my country, but it was a disaster when I came here," he said. "Everything is complicated. Bribes are everywhere."
Arif said he had paid the guard outside the passport office 10,000 dinars to go inside, the equivalent of about $7.
"I can pay," he said. "I'll pay whatever I have to. But what about the other people?"
Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Luma Faruq contributed to this report.