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Thousands at funeral of ex-Iraqi president

Thousands at funeral of ex-Iraqi president”

Thousands of mourners gathered in the Iraqi city of Sulaimaniyah to pay their respects to late Kurdish leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was to be buried Friday in the town that was the seat of his political power.

A 21 gun salute was given for the leader, his coffin draped in the red, white and green Kurdish flag, stamped in its middle with a golden sun. In a nod to his Talabani's role as president however, the Iraqi national anthem, "Mawtini", was performed. Iraqi government, meanwhile, protested against the draping of a KRG flag on the coffin of Talabani.

Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdish region, and his prime minister Nechirvan Barzani waited at the airport as Talabani's coffin arrived on a flight from Germany despite a Baghdad-imposed ban on worldwide flights into the Kurdish region.

Although the presidency has few real powers, the decision to give it to a member of the Kurdish minority symbolised unity for Iraq under a constitution meant to share power among ethnic and religious groups. Talabani, a veteran leader of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination, stepped down as president in 2014, after a long period of treatment following a stroke in 2012.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, mired in the fallout of the Kurdistani referendum, was conspicuously absent.

Among Kurds, he was widely referred to as mam (uncle) Jalal.

Talabani was also the founder of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which he established in 1975 and for which he served several terms as secretary-general.

The Dabashan hill was covered with people as he was laid to rest in early evening.

Iraqi President Fuad Masum, Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, KRG President Masoud Barzani and KRG Prime Minister Nechervan Barzani were among those who attended the homecoming ceremony at the airport.

Talabani had been too ill to express his views about the independence referendum.

Unlike Barzani, Talabani had good ties with Iran and the Iranian-backed Shi'ite groups that effectively rule in Baghdad.

Talabani was one of the longest-serving figures in contemporary Iraqi Kurdish politics, but for much of the past 40 years, he opposed successive governments in Baghdad. Washington, an ally of the Kurds for decades, had also urged them not to hold it.

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

Born in 1933 in the rustic village of Kalkan in the mountains, as a young man he was quickly seduced by the Kurdish struggle for a homeland to unite a people scattered across Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

In a brutal campaign, Iraqi forces killed tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians and uprooted many more from their homes. He lived in Sulaimaniya, a stronghold of his PUK, the main rival of Barzani's KDP.



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