Iraqis gather in front of the Kirkuk governorate building in Kirkuk holding pictures of former president Jalal Talabani, a veteran leader of the struggle for Kurdish self-determination and a unifying elder statesman, on Oct 4, 2017, after he died the previous day in Germany. (MARWAN IBRAHIM / AFP)
ERBIL, Iraq - Jalal Talabani, whose presidency of post-Saddam Iraq symbolized the resurgence of the country's long-oppressed Kurdish people, was brought home on Friday to be buried.
Iraqi and Kurdish TV showed the Iraqi Airways plane, transporting Talabani's coffin from Germany where he died on Tuesday at age 83, landing in Sulaimaniya, his home city in northern Iraq.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum presided the ceremony at the airport, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif the highest ranking foreign official in attendance
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.
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.
A 21 gun-shot salute was given for the coffin draped in the tricolour red-white-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.
Iraqi President Fuad Masum, a fellow Kurd who replaced Talabani in 2014, presided the ceremony at the airport, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif the highest ranking foreign official in attendance.
Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which organized the independence referendum, sat between Masum and Talabani's widow Hero.
Talabani 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 Shi'ite groups that effectively rule in Baghdad.
The Baghdad government, Iran and Turkey all strongly opposed the referendum.