Global Policy Forum

Iraqis Say Council-Approved National Flag Won't Fly


By Pamela Constable

Washington Post
April 27, 2004

It was supposed to be the perfect symbol for a new and unified Iraq: an Islamic crescent on a field of pure white, with two blue stripes representing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and a third yellow stripe to symbolize the country's Kurdish minority.

But the new national flag, presented Monday after an artistic competition sponsored by the Iraqi Governing Council, appears to have met with widespread public disapproval here -- in part because of its design and in part because of the increasing unpopularity of the U.S.-appointed council.

In interviews in several Baghdad neighborhoods, a variety of residents expressed strong negative reactions to the flag, which was reproduced in most daily newspapers. In particular, people objected to the pale blue color of the crescent and stripes, saying it was identical to the dominant color in the flag of Israel, a Jewish state. "When I saw it in the newspaper, I felt very sad," said Muthana Khalil, 50, a supermarket owner in Saadoun, a commercial area in central Baghdad. "The flags of other Arab countries are red and green and black. Why did they put in these colors that are the same as Israel? Why was the public opinion not consulted?"

Other residents objected to the removal of the phrase, "God is greatest," which adorned the previous national flag, and said there was no need for a new one until national elections are held next January and a new constitution is written. Hamid Kifaie, the chief spokesman for the Governing Council, said Monday night that the winning design, by Rifaat Chaderchi , an Iraqi artist, was chosen from among 30 entries. A committee of council members felt best it represented the major values and attributes of Iraq, Kifaie said.

"This flag represents the democracy and freedom of the new Iraq, where the old one represented killing and oppression and dictatorship," he said. "We are not imposing this flag on the people; it was chosen by the legitimate representatives of Iraq. When a new national assembly is elected, it can decide whether to keep it or change it."

To a large extent, however, public objections to the new flag seem to be intertwined with broader unhappiness over the 25-member Governing Council, which many Iraqis closely identify with American interests. Criticism of council members, and disputes among them, have sharply increased with the approach of the June 30 deadline for U.S. authorities to hand over power to a new interim government, which is to remain in office until elections are held early next year.

Some members have made it clear they want to be part of the new government. But both U.S. and U.N. officials here have suggested a clean sweep may be in order. A proposal by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, calls for the council to be scrapped and replaced by what he described in an interview Friday as a government composed of technocrats who are "acceptable to the Iraqi people." He said the United Nations would insist on qualities of "credibility, honesty and expertise," but would also seek a balance among major ethnic and religious groups.

In commenting on the new flag, some Baghdad residents quickly shifted to criticism of the council, saying it had no independent authority -- even to introduce a national emblem -- and was too deferential to American wishes. "I will be delighted when this council is dissolved and a new government is formed," said Amer Abdulaimy, 38, a day laborer, who said he preferred the old flag and saw no reason to change it. "The council has done nothing for us, and it is the same as the American government. We need free elections."

As June 30 approaches, some council members have broken publicly with U.S. officials here and have become embroiled in internal spats. Last week, when U.S. officials criticized a program created last year to review petitions from former members of Hussein's Baath Party who had been fired from government jobs, Ahmed Chalabi, the council member in charge of the program, reacted strongly. Chalabi, an exile leader once highly favored by Washington, said the Americans' call to reform the review process was equivalent to allowing former Nazis to return to power in Germany.

Meanwhile, aides to Chalabi excoriated Adnan Pachachi, another council member. In an essay Monday in the newspaper published by Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Pachachi was accused of being a dictator and a paranoid power-monger who was working with U.S. authorities to squeeze political party leaders out of the new government.

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