The Stars and Stripes, flying in the breeze - it's a beautiful sight. But not one we soldiers in Iraq are accustomed to. It may surprise many readers, but the U.S. military in Iraq is prohibited from flying the U.S. flag here Yes, that's right . The no-flag policy states:
No one may fly, display, post or place the U.S. flag in, on or over vehicles, command posts, captured equipment, structures, buildings, monuments or any other location in Iraq.
That's pretty exhaustive. Why does such a policy exist? Here's the official explanation:
Displaying the American flag counters the perception that we are liberators and partners for Iraq's future security and stability. Public display of the U.S. flag in Iraq creates false perceptions and unfounded suspicions that U.S. forces intend to permanently occupy Iraq.
The no-flag rule has been in effect since the invasion of March 2003 . But it's a curious policy , for several reasons. For one thing, it's historically unprecedented. In Japan and Germany, our troops were both liberators and occupiers . Did they forgo the flying of the American flag? A U.S. military base, regardless of location, is still a U.S. military base. The flag is flown over U.S. bases in other countries? Why can't Old Glory wave over U.S. military bases in Iraq? After all, American embassies and consulates can fly the flag in other countries.
The no-flag rule doesn't apply to our coalition partners here in Iraq, who can fly their flags. We are allowed to fly state flags. My Army National Guard unit is from Texas, so the Lone Star flag flies proudly here in Iraq. And, as American soldiers deployed in a foreign theater, we do wear the flag (albeit backwards) on the right shoulder of our uniform. We just can't fly it in Iraq.
But U.S. troops in Afghanistan don't have a no-flag rule. The Stars and Stripes fly unimpeded in that country. Are they not liberators? Ironically, American troop presence in Afghanistan is much smaller and less widespread that that in Iraq. U.S. forces in Afghanistan exercise much less control over the local population than we do here in Iraq. And yet, they fly the flag, and we don't, although we're both liberators and not occupiers.
I really don't think that the presence or absence of the American flag significantly effects the attitudes of local Iraqis, either for or against us. Is an Iraqi likely to say, "Well, I thought the Americans were occupiers, but they don't have fly their flag, so I guess they're not"? Whether they like us or not, the extremists will always consider us to be occupiers. After all, American troops can detain Iraqis, search their houses, and stop their vehicles. We are a foreign military force exercising authority in Iraq -- in alliance with the new Iraqi government, yes -- but we are still exercising authority on the ground.
Of course, some Iraqis do see us as liberators. But I don't think the flag's absence has much to do with it.
Despite the ban, American flags can always be produced by our enemies when the occasion calls for it. Recently, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army went so far as to paint American (and Israeli) flags on the ground, on streets, and in front of mosques. They did that so motorists would drive over the American flag and people entering mosques would step on them.
There are also respectful displays of the flag, in which the Stars and Stripes can be flown. Memorial Day is one.
I've been informed that on Flag Day, June 14th, the American flag will be flown here at my base in Iraq. That's appropriate. After all, how can you not fly the flag on Flag Day? On that note, I send Flag Day Greetings from Iraq, to my fellow Americans in America, where you can fly the American flag wherever and whenever you so desire.
Long may she wave.
FrontPage Magazine columnist Allan Wall is currently serving with his National Guard unit in Iraq. The views presented in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Bush administration, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency. Allan's "Memo from Mesopotamia" column can be found here.