FLAGS flew at half-mast across Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdish region yesterday as Iraqi Kurds began observing a week of mourning following the death of the country’s former president, Jalal Talabani, once a symbol of unity.

Talabani’s death in a Berlin hospital on Tuesday, at the age of 83, came just days after Iraqi Kurds’ controversial referendum on independence that has angered Baghdad and the region.

A longtime Kurdish guerrilla leader, in 2005 Talabani became the head of state of what was supposed to be a new Iraq two years after the country was freed from the rule of Saddam Hussein. He was seen as a unifying elder statesman who could soothe tempers among Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

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He suffered a stroke in 2012, after which he was moved to Germany for treatment and faded from Iraq’s political life.

Sadi Ahmed Pire, of the Kurdish party which Talabani headed, said yesterday that his burial would take place in the city of Sulaimaniyah over the weekend.

Following news of Talabani’s death, leaders across Iraq and beyond released statements expressing their condolences.

Talabani was “a longstanding figure in the fight against dictatorship and a sincere partner in building a new democratic Iraq”, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement posted on Facebook.