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US-picked Iraq leaders approve new flag
Updated: 2004-04-27 08:39

Iraq's U.S.-picked leaders approved a new flag for the country, dumping Saddam Hussein's red-and-black standard. The new design is white with two blue stripes, and although it has a crescent representing Islam, the flag no longer bears the words "God is great."

A model of the new Iraqi flag as published in Iraqi al-Sabah newspaper. [AFP]
The new design not only abandons the symbols of Saddam's regime. It also avoids the colors used in other Arab flags: green and black for Islam and red for Arab nationalism. The change recalls the U.S. agenda of creating a "New Iraq" that is exceptional in the Arab world.

The Iraqi Flag under Saddam Hussein
The Flag of the State of Israel
The flag, designed by an Iraqi artist and approved by the Governing Council, has two parallel blue stripes along the bottom with a yellow stripe in between.

The blue stripes represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and ! because the river basin is Iraq's Arab heartland ! therefore symbolize the country's Sunni and Shiite Arabs. The yellow stripe represents Iraq's ethnic Kurd minority, taking its color from the yellow star on the flag of Kurdistan.

Above the stripes, in a white field, is a blue crescent of Islam.

The only country in the Middle East with blue stripes in its flag is Israel, which has a Star of David on a field of white between horizontal blue bands.

Council spokesman Hameed al-Kafaei said the designer, artist Rifat al-Chaderchi, was asked to touch up the color of the crescent, perhaps to a darker blue or a different color. The final version will be announced later this week.

"This is a new era," al-Kafaei said. "We cannot continue with Saddam's flag."

But the overhaul of a national symbol raised some complaints ! particularly since it came from U.S.-appointed leaders. U.S. administrators previously tried to alter the Saddam-era flag by dropping the words "Allahu akbar" ! "God is great" ! but Iraqis refused to abide by the change.

One council member said the Iraqi leadership should wait for an elected government before altering the Saddam regime standard, which still decorates the uniforms of Iraqi security forces and flies above government buildings.

"In my opinion, it should be not be passed until we have a parliament," Mahmoud Othman said. "I think there are issues more important to concentrate on now than the changing of the flag."

The old Iraq flag had red and black bands across the top and bottom, and a white band in between with three green stars. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, Saddam added the words "Allahu akbar" to boost the religious credentials of his secular regime.

The new design appeared on the front pages of the Al-Sabah newspaper Monday.

"It is the real model as it represents all spectrum of the Iraqi society," said one Iraqi, Mohammed Faris.

(From the readers: can the blue-white-yellow flag fly?)

Others were less sure.

"I don't like the new one," said Dhia Assi, a bakery owner. "The old one used to make me feel revolutionary. I feel this one belongs to another country."

Riad al-Saadi, 33, called the new flag "meaningless."

"After we added 'Allahu akbar' to the old flag, we became more proud of it. The crescent of the new flag does not represent Islam," he said, adding: "The old one had nicer colors."

In Arabic nations, the colors of flags have widely recognized meanings.

Green, white and black denote Islam ! harkening back to the battle banners of the medieval Islamic dynasties of the Fatimids, Ummayads and Abbasids. Green is said to have been the prophet Muhammad's favorite color; the Saudi, Libyan, Algerian and Mauritanean flags are completely or largely green.

Islamic crescents in Arab heraldry are usually green or red.


Red, meanwhile, points to Arab nationalism. It was the color of the Sharif Hussein, who led the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule in the early 1900s, and he added it to a flag of green, white and black stripes to create a symbol of pan-Arabism.

Hussein's banner was the basis for the Jordanian, Palestinian and Syrian flags ! as well as the old Iraqi one.

The only Arab League members to have any blue in their flag are the African nations of Djibouti and Somalia.

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