New Iraqi Flag

Current Status of the Iraqi Flag

Saddam-Era Flag Remains Iraq's Symbol

© The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Saddam Hussein is gone - but his flag flies on.

The green, red, white and black banner — with the words "God is Great," added by Saddam in the 1990s — fluttered Monday over government buildings.

The proposed new flag, approved by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, sank in public esteem faster than a stone in the Tigris river after a firestorm of criticism that the new banner ignored the country's Islamic and Arab character - and looked too much like the Israeli flag .

Although the new Iraq flag was never formally withdrawn, even most Governing Council members disavowed it. A bank of the Saddam-era flags, one for each of Iraq's eighteen provinces, served as the backdrop in a conference room where ministers of the new government took the oath of office Monday.

The proposed new national banner had two parallel blue stripes along the bottom with a yellow stripe in the middle. The blue stripes represented the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The yellow stripe symbolized Iraq's ethnic Kurdish minority, taking its color from the yellow star on the flag of Kurdistan. Above the stripes, in a white field, was a blue crescent of Islam.

Trouble is, Israel has the only national flag in the Middle East with the color blue.

Some critics thought that abandoning the old color scheme represented a rejection of Iraq's Arab identity. The current Iraqi flag is essentially the same as one adopted in 1921 after the establishment of the modern Iraqi state. It used the colors red, green, black and white which were symbols of the pan-Arab movement which blossomed after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

Just before the U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, Saddam added the words "Allahu akbar" or "God is Great" in hopes of boosting the religious credentials of his otherwise secular regime.

The green, white and black stripes denote Islam — recalling the battle banners of the medieval Islamic dynasties of the Fatimids, Ummayads and Abbasids. Green is said to have been the prophet Muhammad's favorite color. Islamic crescents in Arab heraldry are usually green or red. Red is the color of Arab nationalism, the favored shade of Sharif Hussein, who led the Arab revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule in the early 1900s. He added green, white and black stripes to create a symbol of pan-Arabism.