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Iraqis argue over new, albeit temporary, flag

The Iraqi parliament's move to adopt a new, temporary flag has provoked an outcry, with one city refusing to fly it and some Iraqis attaching the old flag to their cars in a silent protest.
/ Source: Reuters

The Iraqi parliament's move to adopt a new, temporary national flag has provoked an outcry, with one city refusing to fly it and ordinary Iraqis attaching the old flag to their cars in a silent protest.

Iraqis have flooded chat rooms on the Internet with criticism of last week's decision, which had long been demanded by the country's Kurdish minority who say the Saddam Hussein-era banner was a reminder of his brutality.

Many Iraqi Arabs disagree. They see the old flag as having little to do with Saddam, a Sunni Arab, but as one under which countless soldiers died fighting in various wars.

"It's shameful. Thousands of Iraqis lost their lives so this flag could fly.... Changing the flag ignores their sacrifice," said one Iraqi in a comment posted on an Arab chat room.

What's different
The new flag is still red, white and black, but three green stars in the center representing unity, freedom and socialism, the motto of Saddam's now outlawed Baath party, have been removed.

The phrase Allahu Akbar (God is greatest), added in green Arabic script on Saddam's orders during the 1991 Gulf War, remains, but no longer in his handwriting.

Officials in Fallujah, a city in western Anbar province and once a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold, rejected the new flag.

"This is a disaster.... I am using the old flag in my office and at home," the mayor of Fallujah, Saad Rasheed, told Reuters, adding he would raise the new one only if the Anbar provincial council told him to.

The U.S.-backed al-Hurra television station on Saturday said the Anbar provincial council would not fly the new flag, but Khamis Ahmed, a senior member of the body, denied the report.

A long-running debate over whether to change the flag had been given urgency by a planned pan-Arab meeting of politicians in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan on March 10. Kurdish officials had refused to fly the old flag, which is banned in Kurdistan.

Year-long presence
The new flag will last for only one year, while debate will continue on what the final banner should look like.

Some MPs have said Tuesday's parliamentary vote was symbolically important, changing a flag first flown after a coup by the Baath party in 1963. Saddam formally took power in 1979.

Sheikh Efan al-Issawi, a tribal leader in Fallujah, said U.S. soldiers had asked him if he would fly the new flag.

"I told them we will use the old Iraqi flag because it represents the unity of Iraq. We do not believe it represents a certain ruler," he said, referring to Saddam.

Kurds associate the old flag with Saddam's genocidal Anfal campaign against them in the late 1980s in which tens of thousands of people were bombed, shot and gassed.

Many Iraqis objected to the Kurds’ forcing the change. In Baghdad, some motorists have fixed the old flag to their car antennas.

"They (the Kurds) say Saddam made it, but he did not. We refuse to change the flag because it represents us all," said Amir Saadoun, a resident of Baghdad.

And while parliament last Tuesday said the new flag should be flown immediately on all state buildings, the old one still hung from a pole near the entrance to the legislature on Saturday.