Dignitaries gather in Kurd city for Iraq ex-president Talabani’s funeral

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Iraqi Kurdish leaders were joined by representatives of the Baghdad government Friday for the funeral of Iraqi ex-president Jalal Talabani, a veteran of the struggle for Kurdish self-rule, an AFP journalist reported.

Talabani died in Germany on Tuesday aged 83, barely a week after an Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence sparked a crisis in the autonomous Kurdish region’s relations with Baghdad.

His body was flown home from Germany to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, his longtime fiefdom, where a red carpet and a guard of honour awaited on the tarmac.

During a decades-long political career, Talabani was a key figure in Iraqi Kurdish politics before becoming Iraq’s first federal president of Kurdish origin from 2005 to 2014.

As Talabani’s widow Hero and sons stepped off the plane, Iraqi Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, a longtime rival, and prime minister Nechirvan Barzani awaited the coffin.

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Iraqi President Fuad Massum, also a Kurd, Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji, a Shiite, and parliament speaker Salim al-Juburi, a Sunni Arab, represented the Baghdad government.

They were joined by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as Kurdish representatives from Iran, Syria and Turkey.

The dignitaries placed wreathes on Talabani’s coffin, which was draped in the red, white, green and yellow colours of the Kurdish flag, as the Iraqi national anthem and then the Kurdish anthem were played.

The coffin was then taken to the city’s grand mosque.

In Sulaimaniyah, Talabani was known affectionately as Mam (Uncle) Jalal.

Earlier this week, Barzani said he had lost “a friend and a brother” and announced a week of mourning during which Kurdish flags would be flown at half-mast.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a fierce opponent of last week’s referendum, hailed Talabani for his role in “building a federal Iraq”.

Talabani “described Iraq as a bouquet made up of several flowers,” he said, referring to the country’s different communities.

Talabani’s death, following a decades-old struggle for Kurdish statehood, came after Iraq’s Kurds voted 92.7 percent in favor of independence in the September 25 referendum.

The vote was rejected as illegal by the federal government in Baghdad as well as by Iraq’s neighbors.

Baghdad retaliated last week by banning all international flights in and out of the Kurdish autonomous region except for humanitarian cases.

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