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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Decoding Iraq's symbols of celebration
There was rich symbolism in the way Iraqis celebrated the fall of Baghdad - some hurled shoes while others brandished small clay discs. What do these actions and symbols represent?

Hitting with shoes
Man hitting Saddam statue with a shoe
The shoe equates the person with the dirt people step on
The whereabouts of the man himself may be a mystery, but locals vented their anger at Saddam Hussein by attacking effigies of the man - with their shoes. The imagery is strong - shoes are a symbol of "dirt and degradation" in the Arab world, says Professor Faleh Jabar, a writer on Iraqi culture.

"Going into someone's house or a mosque, you would always take your shoes off first. Shoes are used to beat servants, thieves, prostitutes; it indicates servility. Were you to beat your children, this would be done with a stick or the hand, but never shoes."

Clay discs
The turba: Clay from the soil of Najaf
Some of the most fervent celebrants were Baghdad's Shia Muslims, who had been oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime. The clay discs they were brandishing are called "turbas" and are made from the sacred soil of Najaf, where Imam Ali, one of the most important figures in the Shia movement, is buried.

A praying Shia will place the disc in front of him to stop his head touching the ground as he bows to pray. Although turbas were not banned from sight by the regime, "people did not show them because that would be tantamount to political provocation," says Mr Jabar.

Chest beating
Chest beating
Celebrating on the streets
Again, this is a Shia custom and, in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, was frowned on. A ritual that is integral to the commemoration of the deaths of the first and third imams, Ali and Hussein, it is also practised at other times as an expression of loyalty to the imams.

It is, in fact, an expression of joy and catharsis through self-inflicted pain. But in this instance - on the streets of Baghdad - it's first and foremost a political statement.

New Iraqi Flag
The Arabic text says 'God is Great'
Green flags and "old Iraqi" flags were waved. Green is simply the colour of Islam while the Iraqi flags in question have not been seen since before the last Gulf War. In 1991 Saddam Hussein re-drew the flag to include the words "Allahu Akbar" - God is Great - in Arabic script.

It is said the words were in his own hand writing and many interpreted the move as a cynical attempt by the dictator's secular regime to garner support from the Islamic world.

Palm fronds
People holding palm fronds in Baghdad
Palm fronds: Ancient symbol of celebration
A piece of pre-Islamic Iraqi symbolism that dates back to Sumerian and Babylonian civilisation (5-6,000 years ago). They are used in times of celebration and mourning by all Iraqis, including Christians.

Much has already been made of the thumbs-up gesture that British and American soldiers have received from "welcoming" Iraqis. Unlike in many western cultures, in the Middle East the thumbs-up can be an insult, roughly translating as "up yours". But the US Army's Defense Language Institute says that after the first Gulf War, the gesture was adopted by some Iraqis, along with the ok sign, as a "symbol of co-operation and freedom".

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