Iraq Raises New National Flag in Step Toward Reconciliation

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's temporary new national flag was raised over the country's parliament for the first time Tuesday, trumpeted by the government as a break with the past and a step toward reconciliation.

In another symbolic move, the government said it had started to rebuild a revered Shiite shrine which was bombed two years ago, sparking sectarian violence that killed thousands of Iraqis.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presided over the flag-raising outside his offices in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone in a ceremony watched by cabinet members and dignitaries.

Last month, the parliament agreed to adopt the new flag, which is very similar to the old one, in a move long demanded by the country's Kurdish minority who said the old banner was a reminder of the brutality of Saddam Hussein's rule.

"It erases the impact of the past," Maliki said. The flag will fly for a year until a replacement is chosen.

Kurdish officials had refused to fly the old flag, introduced after the coup by Saddam's Baath party in 1963, and it was banned in northern Kurdistan.

Some ordinary Iraqis were far from impressed. Officials in Fallujah in western Anbar province, once a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold, said they would not fly it unless ordered to do so.

"I think that the parliament and the government will incur the hatred of the people against it," Fallujah Mayor Saad Rasheed said.

Many ordinary Iraqis saw the old flag as having little to do with Saddam, a Sunni Arab, and would prefer that the government focus on issues such as improving electricity and water, which still run only intermittently.