Iraqis OK flag, defusing dispute with Kurds

The Baltimore Sun

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi lawmakers approved a new flag yesterday, defusing a long-simmering dispute with the country's northern Kurds who had refused to fly the national banner because of its connection to Saddam Hussein.

The temporary flag, a one-year stopgap until a more permanent design is selected, no longer will bear the three green stars representing the "Unity, Freedom, Socialism" motto of Hussein's Baath Party. The former leader's handwritten "Allahu akbar" (God is great) will be replaced with an old-style Arabic font.

Kurds have flown their own flag, a sun-splashed banner with bands of red, white and green. But the division between them and Iraq's Arabs escalated in September when Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani banned the national flag from being flown atop official buildings.

He also said he would not raise the Iraqi flag in March for a pan-Arab meeting of politicians scheduled to be held in Kurdistan. But after 110 of the 165 lawmakers present approved the changes, Kurdish officials said the government would respect the new flag.

"We are glad for the change that was implemented to the old flag," said Fuad Hussein, Barzani's chief of staff. "We will raise this flag side by side [with] the Kurdistan regional flag."

Parliament rejected three options, which included changing the meaning of the stars to "Freedom, Justice and Forgiveness," changing the color of the phrase "God is great" from green to yellow, or changing the phrase to yellow outlined in blue. The yellow color would have been an acknowledgment of the sun on Kurdistan's flag.

Lawmakers remain deeply divided on how to unite the central government in Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

The Switzerland-sized region in northern Iraq also has its own language and national anthem. It proclaims itself as "the other Iraq," and Kurds consider themselves different from their Arab neighbors.

The two factions continue to spar over the budget, the future of oil-rich Kirkuk and oil contracts Kurdistan officials have signed with foreign businesses despite objections of the federal government.

"It's a gesture of good intentions, and, honestly, it's a positive development," Adil Barwari, a Kurdish member of parliament, said of the flag.

Other parliament members who opposed the new flag said the changes might cause further problems.

Elsewhere, a suicide bomber pushing a small cart carrying an old water heater blew himself up in front of a high school in Baqouba. The blast killed one other person and injured 21 people, most of them teachers and students, police said.

Also in the Diyala province just south of Baqouba, police discovered seven dead family members. A joint patrol of the Iraqi army and police discovered the bodies of a father, his five sons and a cousin. All had been killed execution-style, with their bodies showing signs of torture, police said.

In the west, in Anbar province, police thwarted a female suicide bomber after receiving a tip that she might detonate explosives at a checkpoint northeast of Fallujah.

Kimi Yoshino writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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