Iraqi parliament chooses temporary post-Saddam flag
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament adopted a new, temporary national flag on Tuesday in a move long demanded by the country's Kurdish minority who say the Saddam Hussein-era banner is a reminder of the cruelty of his rule.
There was rare unity among members of parliament over the emotional issue, which represents a symbolic break with the past. A previous attempt to change the flag, by the interim government in 2004, was universally rejected by Iraqis.
The debate over a post-Saddam flag was given urgency by a planned pan-Arab meeting of politicians in Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdistan region on March 10. Kurdish officials had refused to fly the current flag, which is banned in Kurdistan.
The new flag will fly for only one year, while debate will continue on what the final flag should look like.
There was no serious opposition from the Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs in parliament to the new flag -- 110 of the 165 members present voted for the change -- because it is almost identical to the old one.
Lawmakers loyal to fiery Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who have 30 seats in parliament, voted against the proposal for that reason, saying they would prefer to keep the existing flag until a permanent one was chosen.
Other MPs, though, said the vote by parliament was symbolically important, changing a flag that was first flown after the coup by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in 1963.
"The new flag has no signs of Saddam's regime and is a sign that change has been achieved in the country, said Humam Hamoudi, a prominent Shi'ite politician and member of the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) party.
It is still red, white and black, but the 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. The script was originally in Saddam's handwriting but was changed unofficially in 2004 to Kufic, a prestigious early form of Arabic calligraphy that originated in Iraq.
The Kurds had wanted the colour of the script changed to yellow to symbolise the Kurdish nation, but it was decided this would be too difficult to read on a white background.
"We are not trying to create a new flag, but we are moving quickly to create a temporary flag that can be flown at the parliamentary conference in Arbil. Since the Kurds reject the current Iraqi flag we needed to find a new one," said Mofeed al-Jazarie, head of the parliament's culture committee.
Kurdistan banned the use of the Iraqi flag on public buildings in 2006, causing a bitter row with the Shi'ite Islamist-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who said the flag should be raised "over any square inch of Iraq".
Kurds associate the 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.
Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani wrote to the Iraqi parliament last year calling for the flag to be changed. He said then that any new flag would fly alongside Kurdistan's.
"It is unacceptable that this flag, which reflects the acts of the former regime in spreading hatred and death inside Iraq and between people of the region, is still adopted," he wrote.
The new flag will fly at the March 10 meeting of the Arab parliament in Arbil, capital of Kurdistan, believed to be the first major pan-Arab gathering in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. The parliament comprises representatives of Arab League members.
(Writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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