Baghdad government spokesman protests over use of flag during funeral in Sulaymaniya of former Iraqi president and Kurdish leader
Iraq's government has protested against the draping of a Kurdish flag on the coffin of Jalal Talabani, as the his body was brought back to his home city in Iraqi Kurdistan on Friday to be buried.
Iraqi and Kurdish television stations showed the former Iraqi president's coffin being removed from an Iraq Airways plane after its arrival in Sulaymaniya, following the 83-year-old's death in Germany on Tuesday.
But many Iraqi stations reportedly cut their coverage because of the red-white-green Kurdish flag, stamped in its middle with a golden sun, draped in his coffin.
A spokesman for the government in Baghdad said: "The government delegation protested strongly because the Iraqi flag wasn't put on Jalal's coffin, even though the national anthem was played."
Iraqi MPs also reportedly walked away from the ceremony in protest. Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, did not attend. He was represented by his interior minister, Qasim al-Araji.
The flag's use also triggered protests on media and social media close to Shia political groups which support the Iraqi government. Al-Etejah TV cut its broadcast "because the coffin was not draped by the Iraqi flag".
Jalal Talabani (Reuters)
The flight was given special exemption from a ban on international flights imposed a week ago by the Iraqi government following Kurdistan's independence referendum last month.
A 21 gun-shot salute was given for the coffin. A military band played Chopin's funeral march, and the Iraqi national anthem, Mawtini (My Nation).
Iraq's President Fuad Masum, a fellow Kurd who replaced Talabani in 2014, presided over the ceremony at the airport.
Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was the highest-ranking foreign official in attendance.
Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which organised the independence referendum, sat between Masum and Talabani's widow, Hero.
Dignitaries placed wreathes on Talabani's coffin, before it was then taken to the city's grand mosque.
Talabani was known affectionately as Mam (Uncle) Jalal in his home city.
Dignitaries including Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, at Talabani's funeral (Reuters)
Earlier this week, Barzani said he had lost "a friend and a brother" and announced a week of mourning during which Kurdish flags would be flown at half-mast.
Iraq's prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, a fierce opponent of last week's referendum, hailed Talabani for his role in "building a federal Iraq".
Talabani "described Iraq as a bouquet made up of several flowers", he said, referring to the country's different communities. Abadi did not attend the funeral.
Talabani stepped down as president in 2014, after a long period of treatment following a stroke in 2012.
He 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 Shia groups that effectively rule in Baghdad.
The Baghdad government, Iran and Turkey all strongly opposed the referendum.