Iraq flag debate still flutters

Iraqis plan to vote on a new flag by the end of 2008.

In 2004, the US-led occupation authority commissioned Rifat Chadirji to design a new Iraqi flag. The flag would have replaced a Saddam Hussein-era one: A red, white, and black flag that had three stars and Hussein's own script reading, "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Greatest."

Of the six options Mr. Chadirji submitted, the one chosen was a white banner with a blue crescent and three stripes at the bottom. The two blue ones meant to symbolize the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and the yellow stripe was a nod to the Kurds, given their attachment to the color, Chadirji says. The crescent had been one of the most an important symbol for the Sumerians.

The highly controversial flag was assailed by many, mostly for being too similar to the Israeli flag. It never flew.

The old flag remained and Hussein's script was changed to a Kufic script. Nevertheless, Kurds in the northern semiautonomous region banned the revised flag, flying only the Kurdish flag and saying the revised flag was still reminiscent of the Hussein-era one.

And in February, Iraqi leaders agreed remove the stars altogether.

But Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish parliamentarian, says the arrangement was only temporary. "This looks awkward," he says, "but this is Iraq – anything can happen."

In early February, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took part in a flag-raising ceremony inside the Green Zone. "Adopting the new flag is a positive step toward national unity and erases the past crimes, mass graves, and human rights abuses committed under the previous banner," Mr. Maliki said.

But many Sunni Arabs in Anbar Province reject the temporary flag, especially the newly assertive tribal sheikhs.

"They are insulting us," says Sheikh Ali al-Hatem al-Sulieman, a leader of the Dulaim tribal confederation that dominates Anbar. "The flag will not change in Anbar, Baghdad, Salaheddin, Mosul, or Diyala. We will not replace it."

By the end of 2008, Iraqis are expected to vote in a referendum on another new flag design. The first flag was designed by British administrator Gertrude Bell and was inspired by the banners of the Arab tribes that were backed by the British in their revolt against the Ottomans.

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