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Evolution of the Iraqi Flag

Last modified: 2020-07-30 by ian macdonald
Keywords: stars: 3 (green) | text: arabic (green) | iraq | triband | allahu akbar | takbir |
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See also:

Potential Iraq national flag revision

New Iraqi flag under consideration:
http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/2015/05/11/Iraq-puts-new-national-anthem-flag-on-hold-says-official-.html
Dave Fowler, 11 July 2015

I think we can adopt the evolution flag template featured in this article as a reference to the Iraqi pages.
Esteban Rivera, 13 July 2015


Iraq, 1963-1991

Iraq, 1963-1991
image by Mark Sensen
Adopted 31 Jul 1963; abandoned 13 Jan 1991

Egypt and Syria formed in 1958 the United Arab Republic. The new republic adopted a flag made of three horizontal red-white-black stripes, with two green stars placed on the white stripe. The two stars represented the two states which constituted the republic. In 1961, Syria left the UAR but Egypt kept using the name of UAR and the flag until 1 January 1972. In 1963, Egypt, Syria and Iraq tried to constitute a new union, to no avail. The proposed flag for the union should have been the same as the UAR flag, but with three stars symbolizing the three states constituting the union. The union never existed but Iraq retained the proposed flag as its national flag. The official explanation of the three stars was they should remind Iraqis of attempts to unify the Arab countries.
Ivan Sache, 13 Jul 2003

For more on the symbolism of the 1963-1991/2008 Iraqi flag, see the Iraq main page.


Iraq, 1991-2004

(Addition of Takbir in Saddam Hussein's Handwriting)

Iraq, 1991-2004
image by Mark Sensen
Adopted 13 Jan 1991; abandoned 28 Jun 2004

The takbir (Allahu Akbar (God is great) in Arabic script) in green was added to the 1963 flag during the Gulf War, 13 January 1991. The Arabic text may be read from right to left on both sides of the flag, which are identical.
Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 08 Jan 2001

The flag shown above containts text with an unfinished Kaf (Arabic letter similar to a "K" in English), while during the Olympics held in Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996), and Sydney (2000), as well as at the Iraq embassy in Mexico and in front of the United Nations building, flags with a complete kaf were/are shown. In the same way, such flags do not/have not had those marks (accent mark-like) over the alif, but they did/do over the lam.
Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán
, 08 Jan 2001

The first picture above was created by somebody who was not familiar with the Arabic alphabet (as is only too obvious to those who are familiar with the Arabic alphabet).
anonymous, 06 Oct 2002

I would like to comment on Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán's description of the variants of the inscription Allahu Akbar (the Takbir) on the Iraqi flag. In both variant the letter kaf is written completely. The difference is the style of writing. I think the main variant [above] uses the Ruq`a which is common in handwriting, while the other variant [below] uses either Naskh or Thulthi which is common in printed texts. The word Allah is usually written accented (with vowels) even in non-accented texts, while other accents are optional, and are added according to writer's decision, so it is not surprising to see variants in accenting. The hamza over the alif of Allah in the main variant seems to be a spelling mistake, according to formal rules, but it is a common mistake which appears in many texts.
Dror Kamir, undated

This discussion triggered what I think is a memory but may be a fantasy that the presentation of the words on the official version of the Iraqi flag is an exact copy of Saddam Hussein's handwriting. A photograph of Saddam in front of an Iraqi flag on which the lettering can be clearly seen shows hamzas above the initial alifs of both words. There are a shadda (the thing that looks like a little "w") and a dagger alif above the second lam in "Allah." The strokes of the kaf in akbar appear to be connected, but not in a smooth join. [Comment by Nathan Lamm: The flag folds there.] Otherwise no diacritics or vowel markings.
Joseph McMillan, 10 Jul 2002

The claim that the takbir added in 1991 to the 1963 flag is a facsimile of Saddam's own handwriting has been repeated several times, and now it seems that it has become kind of a truth gained by repetition of the claim. Is there really any evidence that the inscription is Saddam's handwriting? Is this an other flag myth/legend/propaganda?
Željko Heimer, 29 Jun 2004

Whether it is a fact or just a legend, it is a common belief of the vast majority of Iraqis, so it has a profound psychological impact, not lost to the new government of prime minister Iyad Allawi.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 29 Jun 2004

I just heard a story on National Public Radio (USA) about the raising of the Iraqi flag at the newly reoccupied embassy in Washington DC. One of the interviewed people celebrating specifically cited the change to Kufic script to move away from Saddam's handwriting.
Richard Knipel, 30 Jun 2004

(Variant Version)

[Iraq, 1991-2004]
image by Juan Manuel Gabin Villascán

It seems that the second version is too perfect – the letters, as I've always seen them, are not straight up and thin. The first version is more like it, even if it is a bit rough. None of the flags have vowels. The version offered by "Anonymous" [not shown] puts hamzas, a complete consonant even if it looks like a vowel, on the alifs, while the first version shown above either has that or the little-used madda. If the former, they cannot be removed; if the latter, the presence of other diacritics (although no vowels) would indicate that they belong. The second version above fails because it's too type-perfect and lacking either of these.
Nathan Lamm, 10 Jul 2002

Several months ago we had a discussion about the exact shape of the inscription in the Iraqi flag. I get the impression these days that there are different variants in use. I saw two variants in recent TV news: a flag behind the Iraqi information minister, with very thin inscription, and a flag somewhere in the Gaza Strip with a more usual variant of the inscription.
Marcus E.V. Schmöger, 23 Mar 2003


Iraq, 2004-2008

(Revision of Takbir to Kufic Calligraphy)

[Iraq, 2004-2008]
image by Pascal Gross and Graham Bartram
Adopted 31 Jul 1963; modified 13 Jan 1991; modified 28 Jun 2004; abandoned 22 Jan 2008

One thing that has puzzled me is the existence of the three stars on the Iraqi flag. What do they represent? According to [ Yehiam Padan (1998), the three stars represent the aspiration for unification with Egypt and Syria, but is it so? I always thought that the stars represented the three ethnic groups of the population (Shia' Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Kurds).
Dov Gutterman, 06 Apr 2003

That they represent the desire for unification is what all my sources say, except for [ Barraclough, who doesn't say a thing. It seems to me that stars in Arab flags generally point to supranational unification attempts (except in "crescent and star" designs).
Ole Andersen, 06 Apr 2003

This is what my sources say also with regard to Arab aspirations, and according to my info (gathered from various places) Iraq flew the tricolor with three stars from 1963-1991, Syria from 1963-1972, and Egypt from 1958-1972. After the attempt to create a supranational Arab entity failed, it is more than likely that Iraq replaced the original meaning with a new interpretation.
Christopher Southworth, 06 Apr 2003

The three-star flag was introduced by the Baathist government. The Baath is a secularist Arab socialist movement and would therefore be most unlikely to symbolize the existence of any religious sect or non-Arab ethnic group in its choice of flag designs. Even before the rise of the Baath, according to Phebe Marr's Modern History of Iraq, Iraqi governments have long tried to eradicate subnational loyalties wherever possible as a way of solidifying support for the (Sunni-Arab-led) unitary state. Far more likely, therefore, that a government committed to pan-Arabism (as the government that adopted the three-star flag in 1963 was) would choose to echo the symbols chosen by other pan-Arabist governments. Charles Tripp's A History of Iraq says (p. 173) that (in 1963), "Initially the new regime proclaimed a desire for unity with Egypt," and (p. 174) "The government entered into a tripartite commitment to unification with Egypt and Syria in April 1963" after a coup in Damascus brought a Baathist government to power there. According to one website on Iraqi flags [no longer on-line] the three stars stood for the three countries of the proposed union when the flag was adopted in 1963, but the meaning was changed to the three words of the Baath motto, "freedom, unity, socialism," after the 1968 coup that brought the Saddam Hussein faction of the party to power.
Joe McMillan, 10 Apr and 04 Jun 2003

Egypt and Syria formed in 1958 the United Arab Republic. The new republic adopted a flag made of three horizontal red-white-black stripes, with two green stars placed on the white stripe. The two stars represented the two states which constituted the republic. In 1961, Syria left the UAR but Egypt kept using the name "UAR" and the flag until January 1st 1972. In 1963, Egypt, Syria and Iraq tried to constitute a new union, to no avail. The proposed flag for the union should have been the same as the UAR flag, but with three stars symbolizing the three states constituting the union. The union never existed but Iraq retained the proposed flag as its national flag. The official explanation of the three stars was they should remind Iraqis of attempts to unify the Arab countries.
Ivan Sache, 13 Jul 2003

According to an Associated Press report:

U.S. administrators have tried quietly in the past to change the flag by dropping the words Allahu akbar, but Iraqis have refused to abide by the change. One council member said the Iraqi leadership should wait for an elected government before altering such a major national symbol. "In my opinion, it should be not be passed until we have a parliament," Mahmoud Othman said. "I think there are issues more important to concentrate on now than the changing of the flag."
Mark Sensen, 26 Apr 2004

As I noted before, the 1991 flag (and the arms) included the Allahu Akbar salutation in Saddam Hussein's own handwriting. Certainly, the new Iraqi government doesn't want to associate itself with the former dictator's calligraphy, but taking under consideration the overwhelming rejection of the recently proposed "blue" flag, they have to modify the flag used universally by their people. Nothing better than using decorative Kufic script, which originated in Iraq, in the town of Kufa (one of the most important cultural centers of the early Islamic period) and is used extensively for the calligraphy of Qur'ans. It might look like a "block style," but in reality it is a venerable script, well known and admired by the Iraqi people.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 29 Jun 2004

On June 30 this design was raised over the Iraqi embassy in Washington when it reopened, and the adoption of this new design seems to be general for high-profile government use at least.
Richard Knipel, 27 Aug 2004

Today, in the mornig (Baghdad time zone), the Independent News Agency Aswat al-Iraq announced that the final vote in the Parliament will occur on January 19th. The story also mentions the staunch opposition of Kurdistan's president, Massoud al-Barzani to the retention of the 3 "baathist" stars on the new flag.
He also urges the Parliament "to speed up changing the Iraqi flag ahead of the Arab parliamentarians conference to be hosted by Arbil (a city in the Kurdish Region) in February 2008."
Chrystian Kretowicz, 16 Jan 2008

Last week there was news of an imminent change to the flag of Iraq. Nothing final was decided it seems, but the issue is not dead and now Associated Press just released a report telling us in the headline that "Iraq lawmakers discuss dispute with Kurds over national flag". According to the report: "Lawmakers said there were several recommendations to defuse the crisis and that a vote by the 275-seat house on a new flag was likely Tuesday." The proposals were described as follows:

"Among the proposals [...] was leaving the flag unchanged but announcing to the nation a new explanation of the meaning of its black, red and while colors as well as its three green stars and Arabic words or Another proposal was for the removal of the three stars, which are thought to symbolize Saddam's now-dissolved Baath Party, or changing the calligraphy of the words.

Alaa Maki, a Sunni Arab lawmaker from the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the Kurds already have rejected the proposal to leave the flag unchanged. Another legislator, Haidar al-Abadi of al-Maliki's Dawa party, said there was a tendency to keep the changes down to a minimum to head off a possible popular backlash."

The motivation for pressing forward with a change is that an international meeting is taking place in Arbil (Erbil/Irbil) next month. The city is located in the Kurdish part of Iraq where the current flag has not been flying because the government there associates it with the previous regime. So the government of Iraq is eager to see hoisted in time for the meeting a national flag acceptable also to the Kurdish parties.
Jan Oskar Engene, 21 Jan 2008


Iraq, 2008-

(Removal of Stars)

[Iraq]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 24 Jan 2008
Adopted 29 Jan 2008

For more on the symbolism of the 2008- Iraqi flag, see the Iraq main page.