A funeral with full military honours has been held in northern Iraq for veteran Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani.
The 83-year old former president of Iraq was in a coma when he died in a German hospital on Tuesday.
His body was flown home from Germany to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, his hometown, where a red carpet and a guard of honour awaited on the tarmac on Friday.
A champion of the Kurdish independence struggle, Talabani was president of Iraq for nine years until 2014, the first non-Arab Iraqi leader and widely respected as a mediator between Shia, Sunni and Kurds.
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.
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 Shia political groups which support the Iraqi government.
Al-Etejah TV even interrupted its broadcast “because the coffin was not draped by the Iraqi flag”.
Talabani’s death, following a decades-old struggle for Kurdish statehood, came after Iraq’s Kurds voted 92.7 percent in favour of a split from Iraq in the September 25 referendum.
The vote, rejected by the Iraqi central government as illegal, has put a deep strain on ties between the Kurds and central Iraqi authorities, who have cut off international flights to the region and threatened further action.
Iraq’s head of state plays a largely ceremonial role and is elected by members of parliament.
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.
Among Kurds, he was widely referred to as mam (uncle) Jalal.
Talabani was an avuncular politician and a skilled negotiator, who spent years building bridges between the country’s divided factions, despite his efforts for Kurdish independence.
Born in 1933 in the mountain village of Kalkan, he studied law at Baghdad University.
In 1956, while still a student, he went into hiding to evade arrest for his political role as founder and secretary-general of the Kurdistan Student Union.
After graduating from law school in 1959, he was called to serve in the Iraqi army where he commanded a tank unit.
Source: Al Jazeera News