The Iraq flag: The colors of history

Iraq FlagIt’s been a wild ride for the Iraq flag, even though it exists only since 1921, it has undergone many changes due to the often unstable political situation in the country.

The first flag of today’s Iraq was created in 1921 and was designed to represent the Hashemite Dynasty that had played a crucial role in the Arab Revolt. The Flag of the Arab Revolt therefore also heavily influenced the overall design of most flags to come.

It is still in use by some monarchists that are for the Hashemites but has been generally replaced.

The Flag of the Arab Revolt

Used during the Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, the flag has been designed by a British politician, namely Mark Sykes, a rather questionable role model but apparently a good flag designer.

The flag was divided into four parts, three horizontal stripes and one triangle on the left.

The horizontal lines (from top to bottom: black, green, white) stand for the Abbasid, the Umayyad and the Fatimid Caliphates, the red triangle stands for the Hashemite dynasty, the triangle would be used in other flag designs for the Iraq flag till the early 50s.

Iraq Flags through the time

After Abdul Karim Qassim abolished the monarchy of the Hashemites, the new flag only consisted of three vertical stripes and a yellow sun surrounded by a red star in the middle, the sun standing for the Kurds while the red star stood for the ancient heritage, being the symbol of the red star of Ishtar, the goddess of war, love and sex.

The flag was generally used during 1959 – 1963 but is still used by many Kurdish people.

From 1963 to approximately 2004, the Iraq flag was made of three horizontal stripes (top to bottom: red, white, black) with three green stars in the middle, later in 1991 accompanied by the written words of „God is Great“).

The three stars initially stood for a unity of Egypt, Syria and Iraq, which – at that time -was rather a wish of the Iraqi powers than reality, after Saddam Hussein took over, he changed the meaning of the stripes to the motto of the Bathist party motto (Unity, Freedom, Socialism).

The colors represented the Pan-Arab movement, a reason why it is not used nowadays.

Modern Iraq flag

After Iraq had been occupied by the US in 2003, there was a long and heated debate over a new design. Several suggestions were quickly disbanded, the US government forbid any flags that had any connection with the Pan-Arab movement and the Bathist party. The only flag that was still allowed because it had been used long before Saddam’s regime, was the Kurdish flag, given that they form only a minority. It’s therefore rather seldom to be seen.

The Iraqi Governing Council was appointed to have a new flag designed and chose Rifat Chadirji who came up with a design that not only broke with the traditional composition of the previous Iraqi flags but also used bold coloring with a blue, yellow and white flag, opposed to the heavy use of red, green and black in previous versions.

Suffice to say that despite the want for political change, the Iraqi people did not want to change their cultural identity.

That the color scheme of the proposed flag came quite close to that of the Israelite flag did not help.

For a while, the old flag was used, which only slightly differed with the writing of „God is Great“ in Kufic script in contrast to the supposed handwriting of Saddam. For a few years, several flags – essentially traditional and with only minor changes – were proposed, in the end a design with the three stripes (red, white, black), without the three stars but with the words of „God is Great“ presented in the middle, was accepted as the current model.

It still is not sure whether this will be the final design, it shows however, how much the flag of Iraq represents not only its cultural heritage but also its tumultuous political background.


IMG: Thinkstock, iStock, Laurent davoust