ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iran’s Foreign Minister on Sunday came under fire in parliament for paying tribute to the national flag of Kurdistan during last year’s memorial for the late Kurdish leader and former President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, held in Sulaimani.
Javad Zarif was summoned to answer questions before parliament, with Iranian lawmakers such as Nader Ghazipour and Javad Karimi Ghoddousi, who are also members of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, raising the subject.
Ghazipour demanded the Foreign Minister’s justification for his attendance at the ceremony receiving Talabani’s body from Germany and for paying respect to the flag of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region.
“It was necessary to represent the Islamic Republic of Iran at the ceremony, and my attendance was approved by IRGC’s [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] Quds Force, the Iranian Armed Forces, and the Foreign Ministry,” Zarif responded.
Talabani was one of the most prominent Kurdish leaders who fought against former Iraqi governments in a decades-long struggle to achieve Kurdish rights. He was President of Iraq from 2005 until 2014. He died in Germany on Oct. 3 after suffering from a stroke.
His body was taken from Germany to his hometown of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region on Oct. 6, with many local and foreign officials attending the ceremony.
“With the warm reception offered to the Islamic Republic of Iran in this ceremony, it was proved to all that the Islamic Republic of Iran holds a high status in Iraqi Kurdistan at a time when a small group of people was trying to split the country,” Iranian Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying.
Zarif was referring to the historic Sep. 25 referendum on independence for the Kurdistan Region held last year, in which 93 percent of voters favored statehood.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will never forget its friends who fought against Saddam, along with Iranians, in the course of the eight-year-imposed war,” he said referring to Jalal Talabani, who played a key role in fighting Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
“At the event, I stood next to the Iraqi president and many Iraqi MPs, including Mr. [Ammar] Hakim. There were a few Iraqi MPs who did not attend the ceremony,” Zarif continued.
“During the ceremony, an abuse of the agreements reached between the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and the government of Iraq occurred, and instead of using the flag of Iraq, the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan was raised. However, nobody left the ceremony,” he noted.
The top Iranian diplomat also claimed that during the wreath-laying, “I was the only person who did not bow to the corpse, and other people attending the event bowed differently,” asserting he did not pay tribute to Kurdistan’s flag.
“I was attending the event alongside commanders of the IRGC,” he highlighted.
“Despite Iran’s opposition to the separationist referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran attended the funeral of Talabani to show it holds deep bonds with the people of Iraqi Kurdistan,” Zarif maintained.
He noted that his attendance was in line with the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who was opposed to the ‘disintegration of Iraqi Kurdistan,’ stating representatives from many countries and regions of the world were present.
“We cannot forget that Mr. Talabani fought against the Ba’athists alongside Iranian warriors and we should not forget our companions because of the crimes committed by others,” he maintained.
“What happened in Sulaymaniyah [Sulaimani] was in accordance with the decision of the Iraqi government and no other ceremony was held for Mr. Talabani in Baghdad, and I have never bowed to any flag other than of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Zarif added.
Iranian MP Ghazipour also held Zarif accountable for the negative role of Erbil and Sulaimani on the Iranian foreign exchange market.
“The Iran-Iraq relations are multilateral and broad, defined by the Supreme Council of the National Security, and I am one of those responsible to put these policies in practice,” Zarif responded.
“Our economic relations with Iraq are at their best levels yet, and our exports to Iraq exceed those to any other neighboring country,” he said.
Hemin Hawrami, a member of the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament and senior adviser to former President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, in a statement posted to his official Facebook account, expressed his concerns over Zarif’s comments, stating all the details of the ceremony were arranged by Talabani’s family.
Hawrami also questioned why such a topic is being brought up now, after almost a year later. He stated that “such comments at such a time certainly won’t resolve the internal issues of Iran,” and that he would have never believed “we would hear such statements” from Zarif.
The Kurdistan Region and Iran have strong economic ties. Although ties were tense following last year’s independence referendum, relations began to normalize months after the vote.
Editing by Nadia Riva