Last Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament passed a law temporarily changing the Iraqi national flag to eliminate the flag’s three stars — which are thought to represent Saddam Hussein’s Baath party — and change the calligraphy of the words “Allahu Akbar” or “God is Great.”
During an interview with CNN this morning, previewing President Bush’s State of the Union speech, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said that the passage of the new law is a sign of political “progress” because the Iraqi parliament was “able to come together and get it done.”
In reality, the legislation was rushed through the Iraqi parliament in order to appease the Kurds — whose leaders banned the Hussein-era flag — ahead of a pan-Arab conference set to be held in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Only a “slim minority” of Iraq’s parliament actually voted in favor of the law.
Additionally, top Sunni and Shiite officials in Iraq are critical of the law. In the mostly Sunni Anbar province, officials are refusing to even raise the new national flag. As McClatchy reported on Jan. 25:
“The new flag is done for a foreign agenda and we won’t raise it,” said Ali Hatem al Suleiman, a leading member of the U.S.-backed Anbar Awakening Council, “If they want to force us to raise it, we will leave the yard for them to fight al Qaida.” [...]
Suleiman of the Anbar Awakening Council, however, said he was angry that the parliament and government toiled away on a new flag rather than dealing with the country’s lack of services.
“We don’t want to handle the problem of the Kurdistan region by causing problems with other regions that might refuse the new flag,” said Nassar al Rubaie, the head of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr’s bloc in parliament, who voted against the new flag.
Additionally, although the parliament speaker said the new flag would be raised immediately, when the legislative body met last Wednesday, “the old flag was still behind the speaker and his two deputies.”
UPDATE: Digby has more.
KING: The president is also going to be talking about Iraq tonight Dana. He’ll be talking, I guess, about the so-called “surge,” progress that’s been made in terms of security and safety there, but there still has been little political progress. What’s the president’s message to Nouri al-Maliki and people who are in charge there in Iraq going to be tonight.
PERINO: The president will spend a significant amount of time in his speech tonight talking about Iraq. And remember where were a year ago. Iraq was something that even the president said if polled he would say he would not approve. But over the year, implementing the surge strategy, we’ve been able to significantly reduce sectarian violence. Deaths — civilian deaths are way down, our military deaths are way down. And the president is going to say we have to capitalize on those gains we cannot run the risk backsliding.
And on the political side of things John there actually has been some progress made the Iraqi front. Certainly, they had the de-Baathification law that’s right in front of them right now. They are sharing money with the provinces. The federal government is sending money to the provinces much like we do here in America. And so they’re — and actually, that vote the other day on the flag, General Petraeus said that that was something that we might see as minor but was a very contentious issue and they were able to come together and get it done.