President Masoud Barzani visits the grave of the late former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Sulaimnai on October 7, 2017.
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish President Masoud Barzani visited the grave of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Sulaimani on Saturday, a day after the iconic leader was laid to rest on the city’s Dabashan hill, hoping that Erbil and Baghdad will take the path of dialogue to iron out their differences.
President Barzani told reporters briefly that Talabani’s death is a “big loss” for the Kurdish nation, whose unifying leadership will be missed by the people in Kurdistan.
“It is now up to us [in Kurdistan] to expand and strengthen our brotherhood, and protect our unity. This will make the soul of our dear brother Mam Jalal to rest in peace,” Barzani said, as he added that his Kurdistan Democratic Party and Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan should do their best to put the Kurdish house in order.
“Nobody better feels the void left by his Excellency Mam Jalal than I do,” Barzani said using the Kurdish word for Uncle, as Talabani is known among the Kurds.
The KDP and PUK entered an armed conflict in the mid-1990s that ignited the Kurdish civil war, something both Barzani and Talabani later called a mistake that should have never happened.
“Many times there were very big problems, but were solved with one phone call, either initiated by me or him. I hope that both the PUK and the KDP, and all other parties will learn lessons from the past, and for all of us to put our hands together, and collectively push for our sacred objective,” Barzani said, making reference to the Kurdish long-held dream for statehood, about two weeks after the Kurdish people voted for leaving Iraq with a 92 percent verdict.
The Iraqi government opposed the Kurdish popular vote that took place on September 25, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Iraqi parliament calling on the Kurdish government to annul the vote.
President Talabani was the first non-Arab president of Iraq.
Asked about the disputes between Erbil and Baghdad in light of the death of President Talabani whose leadership was marked by unique unification between Kurds and Arabs, and Shiites and Sunnis, President Barzani said that they have always called for dialogue to resolve their outstanding issues with the government in Baghdad.
Some Iraqi officials, both from the ruling Shiite and Sunni parties, attended the funeral, including the parliament speaker Salim al-Jaburi, and the head of the ruling Shiite National Alliance Ammar al-Hakim.
“We hope that this will become an opportunity for them [Iraqi officials] to reconsider their decisions,” Barzani said.
The Iraqi government has passed a number of punitive measures, including a ban on international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region, a measure that the Kurdish government calls a “collective punishment”. It has also officially demanded Kurdistan’s neighbors, both Turkey and Iran, to close their land borders with Erbil and help bring the Kurdish oil export under the control of the Iraqi federal authorities.
The Kurdish government and parliament have rejected all such measures saying that the government in Baghdad has no such powers under the Iraqi constitution.
President Barzani later received Iraqi Vice Presidents Osama al-Nujaifi and Ayad Allawi at the funeral in Sulaimani.
President Masoud Barzani and Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi pictured at the funeral of President Jalal Talabani in Sulaimnai on October 7, 2017. Photo: Rudaw TV
Allawi told reporters before his meeting with Barzani that there are efforts on the national, regional and international levels to find a solution that best serves the interests of Iraq and keeps its unity.
He said that President Talabani was a voice of moderation and wanted to keep the unity of Iraq. He added that the late charismatic leader lived up to his post as the president of all of Iraq.
Following their meeting, Allawi told Rudaw that the punitive measures taken by Iraq against the Kurdistan Region should be stopped, that “the Kurdish nation should not be punished, and dialogue should be pursued.”
Both Allawi and Nujaifi reaffirmed to Rudaw that the solution to the problems between the two sides should be “Iraqi,” instead of being originated from outside the country.
VP Nujaifi said that the problem is not confined to the outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad, but that there is a “constitutional crisis” as well as the dysfunction of the Iraqi state institutions.
He said any solution should result in “peace and stability” for Iraq.
VP Allawi is leading efforts to bring Erbil and Baghdad to the negotiating table, calling on the United Nations to become directly involved. President Barzani had already welcomed Allawi’s initiative, but the Iraqi government has yet to respond.
Meanwhile, Iraqi President Fuad Masum who also paid his tribute to his predecessor in Sulaimani said that there are many efforts in place that seek to negotiate a solution.