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Iraq: Protesters force PM to leave funeral of national poet Muzaffar al-Nawab

Muzaffar al-Nawab, who faced jail time and exile in the 1960s, died Friday in an Emirati hospital aged 88
Mourners react by the coffin of renowned Iraqi poet Muzaffar al-Nawab during his funeral procession at the Imam Ali shrine, in Iraq's central holy city of Najaf, on 21 May (AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Moustafa al-Kadhimi was forced to leave the funeral of the country's renowned communist poet Muzaffar al-Nawab on Saturday after a section of mourners began chanting slogans of contempt at his delegation. 

Nawab, who faced jail time and exile in the 1960s, died Friday in an Emirati hospital aged 88, Iraqi authorities announced. 

The culture ministry said he died after a long battle against illness, without giving details.

Kadhimi ordered Nawab's body be returned to Iraq by presidential plane so that the poet could be laid to rest in his homeland, and went to the airport with several other officials to receive the remains. 

The funeral procession on Saturday began at the Association of the Iraqi Writers in Baghdad. But not long into the ceremony, mourners began chanting political slogans against the prime minister and Iraq's political elite.

"The people want to bring down the regime," and "oil is for the people not for the thieves", groups chanted, prompting the pallbearers to return Nawab's casket to the hearse as Kadhimi and his convoy left the area. 

He was later laid to rest at the Wadi al-Salam (Valley of Peace) cemetery, in Iraq's central holy city of Najaf. 

Earlier, President Barham Saleh tweeted in memorial of the late poet, posting: "He lives on in the spirit of all those who sing his immortal poems." 

The life of Muzaffar al-Nawab

Born in 1934 into a prominent Baghdad family, Nawab was renowned for his poems filled with revolutionary fervour, a commitment to the communist cause and criticism of Arab dictatorships.

His stands led to spells in prison, as well as periods of exile in Iran, Damascus, Beirut and European capitals.

'Why did Muzaffar al-Nawab die in the Emirates?... because the country is not livable'

- Omar al-Janabi, journalist

Nawab is credited with having integrated colloquial Iraqi Arabic into his works.

He last visited Iraq in 2011, when he was received in grand pomp by the presidency. 

The poems of Nawab, who was unmarried and had no children, were often evoked during the autumn 2019 wave of youth-led anti-corruption protests that swept Iraq.

"Why did Muzaffar al-Nawab die in the Emirates?... Because you've governed Iraq for 19 years, because Baghdad hospitals do not treat patients, because the country is not livable," Iraqi journalist Omar al-Janabi tweeted.