I recently wrote about the instant Libyan national identity change we all witnessed live on the news as the Libyan revolution fighters tore down the Gaddafi-designed green flag and replaced it with the red, green and black flag of the Libyan Republic. Instant re-branding witnessed by the world at large, and before the existing government was officially overthrown. These acts, broadcast worldwide symbolised national unity – the will of the people.
This inspired me to take a look at where Iraq was with regard to its flag, the carrier of its national identity. What a journey it’s been and from as far back as 1921. Even today, the Iraqi national identity issue has not been resolved. The flag that was introduced in 2008 as a temporary solution is still in use.
Post-invasion, it was speculated that the US had pressed for a change in the flag to disassociate it from Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and Pan-Arabism. Surely that was a no-no – foreigners (especially the West) imposing their will on an Arabic nation’s national identity? Is that not the very issue of contention that Arabs far and wide feel today, the imposing of western views and culture onto Arab societies?
However, to a degree it looks as though the Iraqi people haven't been in agreement either, and haven’t done so for decades. This is a telling identity crisis, and not one attributed to western interference.
It is believed that Saddam, like Gaddafi had imprinted his touch on the Iraqi national flag (flag law No. 6 of 1991), by adding the words Allahu Akbar, which means “God is Great” in green. The Takbir, as it is known, was alleged to be in Saddam’s personal handwriting - an extreme, and highly personal statement of ownership/dictatorship. The Gaddafi-designed single colour flag seems tame in comparison.
The first flag of the Kingdom of Iraq was introduced by the pro-Hashemite monarchists in 1921. It was abolished in 1958 under the Iraqi and Jordanian, Arab Federation merger – this change lasted 6 months and ended during the 1958 revolution. In 1959 the Hashemite monarchy was abolished and Iraq became a republic. Yet another flag was adopted, which lasted until 1963 but is still flown in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. 1n 1963 the Ba’ath Party changed it again, Saddam changed it once more in 1986, and so the story continues… here we are in 2011 and the issue still remains unresolved.
The constant debate, changes and proposed changes to the Iraqi flag (16 in total since 1921) must have compounded a feeling of national uncertainty and probably still does.
Lisa Knight is Creative Director & Founder of The Brand Foundation, a Dubai-based branding agency. Prior to that, Lisa led the creative team of the UK’s governing political party, firstly under Rt. Hon Tony Blair and latterly, Rt. Hon Gordon Brown. Lisa’s career spans 17 years and numerous industries; arts & entertainment, business & finance, fashion, travel, youth, sport & international development.