After years of debate, Iraq has finally ended the uncertainty over its national flag. At least for now.
Opponents of the present flag, especially the Kurds, are having to make do for the moment with a few minor changes and a new explanation of its three stars. These interim changes are designed as a stopgap solution until the divided Iraqi community can dream up a national flag acceptable to all.
On the new flag, the text “Allah akbar” (God is great) changes from green to yellow, the Kurdish national colour. It is also printed in traditional Kufi script, replacing Saddam Hussein’s handwriting.
The stars no longer stand for the three aims of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party, (Arabic) unity, freedom and socialism but for the cornerstones of the new Iraq, peace, tolerance and justice. The flag’s colours now represent Islamic civilisation, rather than Arabic glory.
For nearly five years, the leaders of Iraq have been squabbling over a new flag. This often led to irritation and confusion amongst international partners, who no longer knew precisely what the Iraqi flag looked like.
In May 2004, more than a year after Saddam’s statue had been toppled in Baghdad’s Paradise Square, Iraq’s new leaders had to think of a solution to the flag problem. In just a few weeks, the Olympic Games were starting in Greece and the Iraqi athletes did not know which flag they should parade under.
The Iraqi leaders decided to have a new flag designed. One of them phoned his brother, a well-known architect working in London, and asked him to come up with a possible flag as quickly as possible. The design had to include an Islamic symbol and satisfy Kurdish demands. Apart from these provisos, he could let his fantasy run wild.
The architect, who had been domiciled in the West for 40 years, put down what came into his head: a white flag with, in the lower part, two blue stripes separated by a yellow one. In the white area, there was a blue crescent moon. Mesopotamia’s two rivers, Islam and the Kurds were all represented. The white background stood for hope in a new future.
Many Iraqis found the change shockingly radical. The four colours which had formed the basis of all Iraq’s flags in the 20th century had gone. Blue and yellow are not to be seen in any Arabic flag, and the only country in the region with a blue and white flag is Israel.
Many Iraqis thought that this could not be coincidence. The design symbolised American Iraq, on which Arabic brothers were turning their backs and which had thrown itself into the arms of the enemy, Israel and the West. The revolutionary design disappeared deep in a drawer, with the result that Iraq has been without an official flag over the intervening years.
Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government, took a bold decision that the flag under which thousands of Kurds had been killed would no longer fly in Kurdish areas. However, the Kudish province of Sulaymaniyah, stronghold of the rival Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, took a more pragmatic view of the flag and its ‘fascist past’. The flag carried on being used there but without the text “Allah akbar”which had been added by Saddam during the First Gulf War.
A conference of Arabic parliaments is to be held in the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and this has led to the flag again becoming an issue. Initially, Mr Barzani refused to use the present Iraqi flag. Now, he will accept the present flag as long as a completely new one is eventually found.
For more information: Radionetherlands.nl