Honour guards salute next to the coffin of Iraqi ex-president Jalal Talabani covered with the flag of Kurdistan during a ceremony at the Sulaimani airport on October 6, 2017. Photo: AFP / Shwan Mohammed
BAGHDAD, Iraq – A Shiite member of the Iraq parliament has described draping the coffin of the late Iraqi president Jalal Talabani with the Kurdish flag as an “insult” to the Iraqi government, something that pushed him to leave the funeral which took place on Friday in Sulaimani.
Mowaffak al-Rubaie said that the former president Talabani who died on Tuesday in Germany was a symbol for the unity of Iraq, and an example of Kurdish and Arab coexistence in the country.
Talabani’s coffin, draped with the Kurdistan flag, was greeted with a 21-gun salute at the Sulaimani airport on Friday while received by local and world leaders such as President Masoud Barzani, Iraqi President Fuad Masum, and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, among others.
Mala Bakhtiyar, from Talabani’s party, told reporters on Saturday that those who left the funeral in protest “misunderstood” the situation. He said that Iraqi officials thought that the Kurdish government or the PUK intentionally left out the Iraqi flag.
“There was no intention,” Bakhtiyar said, explaining that event organizers deemed it unnecessary to also raise the Iraqi flag, an arrangement that Bakhtiyar said both the Kurdish government or the PUK did not want to influence.
He said that the real question in Iraq is not the flag issue, the important thing is “whether or not we are committed to the [Iraqi] constitution," a clear reference to the Kurdish argument that accuses the Iraqi government of having violated about one-third of the constitution.
The flags of Kurdistan and Iraq are now raised side by side near the grave of President Talabani, Bakhtiyar said, adding that the two flags will also feature at the place where they receive mourners in Sulaimani.
People show their respect to the service of the late Iraqi President Jalal Talabani where the flags of Kurdistan and Iraq feature on October 7, 2017. Photo: Rudaw TV.
A Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament from Talabani's party, Shwan Dawudi, said earlier today that the Iraqi flag should have also been raised at the Friday service at Sulaimani airport since Talabani served as the president of Iraq for eight years, though there is no doubt that he was a Kurdish leader.
Iraq’s parliament speaker Salim al-Jaburi, the head of the ruling Shiite National Alliance Ammar al-Hakim, Iraq’s Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji on behalf of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and other Iraqi officials attended the service at the airport.
The criticism comes as several Iraqi TV stations stopped their coverage of the funeral when it became apparent that the coffin was covered with the Kurdish flag. One TV station said that they did so because the footage contained the “separation flag.”
Talabani’s death came about a week after the Kurdish people in the Kurdistan Region and the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad voted with an overwhelming 92 percent to leave Iraq, despite opposition from the Iraqi state, regional countries, and almost the entire international community.
Rubaie, the Iraqi MP, said in a statement that Talabani was the president of Iraq, and therefore the fact that the coffin was not draped with the Iraqi flag is a “strong insult to the Iraqi government.”
He charged that President Barzani and other Kurdish officials engineered the event in a way that would undermine Iraq’s authority, adding that there was not even a single Iraqi flag at the airport, though Iraqi officials such as the parliament speaker were present at the funeral.
He then said in a video message that the “insult” was an act by what he described as “racist Kurds.”
He claimed that the event organizers played only the Kurdish national anthem and that the language in use was only Kurdish.
As part of the official ceremony, the organizers played both the Iraqi and Kurdish national anthems and the announcer used Kurdish, Arabic and English.
Rubaie, who is also a former Iraqi National Security Advisor from the ruling Shiite National Alliance, said that Iraqi officials were offended due to the way the seats were arranged with Iraqi officials seated behind the Kurdish officials, except for President Masum, who he said received the prime seat next to President Barzani because he is a “Kurd.”
President Masum and President Barzani laid wreaths of flowers in tribute to Talabani’s service, followed by Iraqi and foreign officials.
The Iraqi MP said that the Iraqi officials, including the representative of the Iraqi PM, should have laid wreaths of flowers before President Barzani since the “local authority” comes subordinate to the federal government.
“Masoud was very precise in his insult,” Rubaie charged, wondering why some of the Iraqi officials chose to be silent in this regard.
Qubad Talabani, who is also Kurdistan’s deputy Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Talabani family on Dabashan hill where his father was laid to rest thanked those who attended the funeral on Friday.
He said that his father was more concerned about his public life as a politician serving his people as opposed to his private life.
“He chose Kurdistan and chose the struggle of the people of Kurdistan over a normal life,” Qubad said, adding that they are proud of his service to the country.
Qubad added that his father worked tirelessly for Kurdistan and Iraq to achieve peaceful coexistence.