BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s prime minister raised the country’s new temporary national flag over parliament in a symbolic break with the past on Tuesday, although many ordinary Iraqis remain unhappy their old banner has been replaced.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hoisted the flag himself over the cabinet building inside central Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone during a ceremony watched by leading dignitaries, said the government’s spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
Last month, parliament agreed to adopt the new flag, which is very similar to the old one, in a move long demanded by the country’s Kurdish minority who said the old banner was a reminder of the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Kurdish officials had refused to fly the old flag which was banned in Iraq’s largely autonomous northern Kurdistan region.
“It will fly across Iraq, in Kurdistan, and from north to south,” Dabbagh said.
However, that may not be the case. Officials in at least one city, Falluja in western Anbar province and once a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold, said they would not fly the new one.
“This is a disaster … I am using the old flag in my office and at home,” the mayor of Falluja Saad Rasheed, told Reuters last month.
Ordinary Iraqis, who saw the old flag as having little to do with Saddam, a Sunni Arab, have also been attaching the old flag to their cars in a silent protest.
The new flag, which has been approved for a year after which a permanent replacement will be chosen, looks much like the old one, first flown after Saddam’s coup in 1963.
It is still red, white and black, but three green stars in the centre 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 since his downfall it has no longer been in his handwriting.