Former Iraqi president Talabani’s body returns to Kurdish region
ARBIL – Reuters
Jalal Talabani, the post-Saddam Hussain era Iraq president, , was brought home on Oct. 6 to be buried.
Iraqi and Kurdish TV showed the Iraqi Airways plane, transporting Talabani’s coffin from Germany where he died on Oct. 3 at age 83, landing in Sulaimaniya, his home city in northern Iraq.
The plane was given special exemption from a ban on international flights imposed a week ago by the Iraqi government following the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government’s independence referendum last month.
Talabani, a veteran Kurdish leader for self-determination, stepped down as president in 2014, after a long period of treatment following a stroke in 2012.
A 21 gun-shot salute was given for the coffin draped in the red, white and green Kurdish flag, stamped in its middle with a golden sun. A military band played the Iraqi national anthem, “Mawtini” [my nation], and Chopin’s funeral march.
The Kurdish flag on the coffin triggered a wave of protests on media and social media close to Shi’ite political groups which support the Iraqi government. Al-Etejah TV interrupted its broadcast “because the coffin was not draped by the Iraqi flag.”
Talabani was the first non-Arab president of Iraq, elected in 2005, two years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab, empowering the Shi’ite Arab majority and allowing the Kurds - who are mostly Sunni Muslims - to have a recognized autonomous region with its own military force, the peshmerga.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum, a fellow Kurd who replaced Talabani in 2014, presided at the ceremony at the airport, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif the highest ranking foreign official in attendance.
Masoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, sat between Masum and Talabani’s widow Hero.
Talabani had been too ill to express his views about the referendum but his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party gave it only lukewarm support.
Unlike Barzani, Talabani had good ties with Iran and the Iranian-backed Shi’ite groups that effectively rule in Baghdad.
The Baghdad government, Iran and Turkey all strongly opposed the referendum.