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Iraq: Parliament Approves New Flag, But Only Temporarily


http://gdb.rferl.org/50B59081-45BD-4FE2-929B-0564956B3A3B_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/50B59081-45BD-4FE2-929B-0564956B3A3B_mw800_mh600.jpg Iraq's new flag (AFP) It's being hailed as a key step toward Iraqi reconciliation.

In a rare moment of unity, Iraq's parliament on January 22 voted to adopt a temporary national flag. The move represents a symbolic break with the recent past, as a previous attempt to change the flag was rejected by Iraqis in 2004.

The new flag will fly for one year, with lawmakers pledged to come up with a permanent banner in that time. It is still red, white, and black, but some of the key signs on it from the Saddam Hussein era have been removed.

The debate over a new flag had become more urgent in recent days, partly because of a planned pan-Arab meeting of politicians in Iraq's Kurdish region on March 10. Kurdish officials refused to fly the old flag, which they saw as a symbol of Hussein's tyranny. They now say they will fly the new banner at the meeting in Irbil, believed to be the first major pan-Arab gathering in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

The new flag, while largely similar to the old one, contains important changes. "The three stars have been removed because they symbolize [the Ba'ath Party ideological principles of] unity, freedom, and socialism," parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani told lawmakers. "So we do not need them."

The phrase "Allahu akbar" (God is great), added in green Arabic script on Hussein's orders during the 1991 Gulf War, remains on the new flag. The script -- originally in Hussein's own handwriting -- had already been changed unofficially in 2004 to Kufic, a prestigious early form of Arabic calligraphy that originated in Iraq.

Reports say the Kurds had wanted the color of the script changed to yellow to symbolize the Kurdish nation. But this was deemed too difficult to read on a white background.

There was no serious opposition from the Shi'ite, Sunni Arab, or Kurdish blocs in parliament to the new flag, as 110 of the 165 members present voted for the change.

But because the flag is so similar to the old one, the 30 lawmakers loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr voted against the proposal. They argued that the existing flag should be kept until a permanent one is chosen.

Lawmakers now face a tough debate over a permanent flag. Whether they manage to agree on one in the coming year will provide as good an indication as any of Iraqi progress toward national reconciliation.

(RFE/RL's Iraqi Service contributed to this report.)
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