The national flags of Iraq reflect that country's troubled history from the time of the British Mandate to the fall of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party regime in 2003.

The country now known as Iraq took shape in the years after the First World War, when the three Mesopotamian provinces (Mosul, Baghdad and Basra) of the defunct Ottoman Empire were grouped together as a League of Nations mandate territory under British control. The Mandate proved unpopular with the inhabitants of the three provinces, however, and in 1920 a revolt against the British broke out. Though it was soon put down, this revolt convinced the British government to change its policy, and the Mandate was transformed into a protectorate. The British decided that the new nation of Iraq should become a kingdom, and the crown was given to the Hashemite prince Amir Faisal, who became King Faisal I in 1921. In 1932, the Kingdom of Iraq was formally admitted to the League of Nations. This brought the protectorate to an end, though under the terms of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty (signed in 1930) British influence remained paramount.

The Hashemite monarchy lasted until 1958, when King Faisal II was deposed and killed in a violent military coup. The Army officers responsible had decided that Iraq should become a republic, a change duly proclaimed that year. In reality, however, the July 1958 coup led to a series a of military dictatorships and coups that culminated with the emergence of Saddam Hussein as Iraq's unquestioned leader by 1979.

Throughout Iraq's history, tensions between the country's various ethnic, tribal and religious groups have simmered, frequently erupting into violence. Most of the governing elite was drawn from the Sunni Arab minority, with the Shia' majority largely excluded from power. The substantial Kurdish minority, mostly situated in northeast Iraq, has always viewed the Arab-dominated Baghdad government with suspicion. Even within the Sunni ruling group, there have been disputes, frequently sanguinary, between those who saw Iraq as part of the wider Arab nation and those who advocated the development of a distinctive Iraqi national identity. All these tensions have played a role in the evolution of the Iraqi national flag.




The Pan-Arab Flag



Variant National Flags  •  1920-24



National Flag  •  1924-58

As a predominantly Arab nation, Iraq has always flown a national flag reflecting trends in the wider Arab world. In the early period of the Mandate, Iraqi flags were based on the design of the Arab Revolt or Pan-Arab Flag, first hoisted on 30 May 1917. This flag displayed stripes of black, green and white, with a red triangle at the hoist. These four colors have long been associated with Islam and the Arabs. White and black flags were supposed to have been used by the Prophet Muhammad. Green, widely acknowledged as the color of Islam, was the traditional color of the Fatimid dynasty that ruled North Africa from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. Red is the traditional color of the Hashemite dynasty, descendents of the great-grandfather of the Prophet, and for centuries the rulers of Mecca. Combined in modern flag form, these were the colors of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War.

It was therefore natural for the new Kingdom of Iraq to adopt a national flag based on the Pan-Arab colors. King Faisal I merely added two white, seven-pointed stars in the red field to symbolize that Iraq was the second Arab nation to emerge from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire. (Syria was the first, and adopted an identical flag with a single star.) In 1924 the design was refined, the order of the stripes being changed and the red triangle changed to a trapezoid. This remained the national flag of Iraq until the 1958 coup. Another version of the Pan-Arab flag used during the Mandate, consisting of black, white and green stripes with a plain red triangle at the hoist, was later adopted as the flag of the Iraqi Baath Party.




National Flag  •  1958-63

The switch from a monarchy to a republic led to the adoption of a new national flag: a vertical tricolor with stripes of black, white and green. On the white stripe was placed a dark red, eight-pointed star enclosing a golden yellow disc. The star represented Iraq's Christian-Assyrian minorities, while the yellow disc represented the Kurdish minority. Thus was created the only Iraqi national flag that symbolically recognized the state's multi-ethnic makeup.


National Flag  •  1963-91


National Flag  •  1991-2003


Baath Party Flag  •  1963-2003

The 1958 flag did not last long, being abandoned when the leader of the coup and subsequent prime minister, General Abdul Karim Qassem, was in turn deposed and executed in 1963. This change of government brought Army officers associated with the quasi-socialist Baath Party to power. Subsequent to the coup, an attempt was made to join Egypt, Syria and Iraq in a United Arab Republic. Iraq adopted a new national flag, based on the Liberation Flag of the army officers who overthrew the Egyptian monarchy: horizontal stripes of black, white and red with three green stars in a row on the white stripe—a design that preserved the Pan-Arab colors. Though the United Arab Republic proved abortive, Iraq decided to keep this flag. Later it was stated that the three stars stood for the three principles of the Baath Party: Freedom, Unity, Socialism.

The 1963 flag was modified in 1991 by the addition of the Muslim takbir (declaration of faith) Allah Akbar ("God is Great") in Arabic script between the stars. Saddam Hussein ordered this modification at the time of the First Gulf War in an attempt to curry favor with Islamist Arabs. (As a secular and nominally socialist ruler, Saddam had previously been reviled as an apostate by many Islamists.) Reputedly, the takbir on the 1991 flag was depicted in Saddam's own handwriting. Whether true or not, this claim was widely believed by the Iraqi people. Thus, after Saddam's fall in 2003, the inscription was modified to the traditional Kufic script. This change was formalized in 2004 by the interim Iraqi government.


National Flag  •  2004-08


National Flag Since 2008


National Flag, Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq

Even with the change of script, however, the Iraqi flag with three green stars was totally unacceptable to the Kurds, who by then enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy within Iraq. The Kurds associated this flag with the persecutions and massacres they had endured under the Saddam Hussein regime. It was obvious, therefore, that it had to be changed. Various new designs were proposed, but in the end it was decided simply to remove the stars and enlarge the takbir. The new flag was formally adopted in 2008. In the Kurdish Autonomous Region, it is flown jointly with the Kurdish flag, a horizontal tricolor of red, white and green, charged with the golden yellow sun symbol that has long been associated with the Kurdish nation.