When Jalal Talabani fell into a coma as a result of a blood clot in his brain and returned to Germany for treatment, rumours spread about his health and even his death, before it was reported that his condition had stabilized. There were also rumours of certain Arab figures being nominated for his position if he were to die or become unable to perform his duties. As a result, the Kurds sought to reserve Talabani’s presidential post for themselves, and began naming candidates such as Dr. Ibrahim Saleh, an experienced politician, and Iraq’s first lady Hiro Ibrahim Ahmed, a prominent Kurdish activist. On the international scene, two prominent American researchers urged Washington to push for the nomination of another Kurdish president for Iraq. Amidst all this it was if Iran is absent from what was happening, even though it is the key player in the Iraqi arena.
Yet very few seem to have taken into account the potential surprise that could emerge and turn expectations on their head; namely the possibility that Baghdad could reject any subsequent Kurdish figure being the President of Iraq. In fact, this is increasingly probable especially if we take into consideration the rising tension between Baghdad and Erbil, a climate that even threatens war on account of the Iraqi army’s confrontations with the Kurdish Peshmerga troops along the border. Furthermore, the al-Maliki government has failed to implement the numerous agreements it had signed previously with various parties to solve the crises that have devastated Iraq for years, such as the Erbil agreement for example, which allocated the Ministry of Defense to the Iraqiya coalition and reserved the National Council for Strategic Policies for the coalition’s chairman, Dr. Iyad Allawi.
If it is true that the al-Maliki government has been successful in withholding these two positions from the Iraqiya bloc – which won 91 seats in the parliament compared to the 89 seats that went to the ruling State of Law Coalition – in addition to the considerable Arab and non-Arab Sunni depth enjoyed by Iraqiya, then why can’t the Iraqi government circumvent the Kurds’ presidential right? There are several existing factors that would facilitate this circumvention already, such as the fact that the Arab Sunnis were against positions being reserved for the Kurds in the first place, not just Talabani assuming the presidency or Hoshyar Zebari being appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is because they deemed the Kurds’ assumption of these two positions to be excessive, and contrary to Iraq’s vision of “pan-Arabism”. The Arab Sunni component was always the most vocal in its rejection of Talabani and Zebari’s positions, and this would surely facilitate the endeavour to deprive the Kurds in Iraq’s current circumstances. Furthermore, we must not forget that the Kurds were granted these two positions as an exception or an emergency measure, in an Arab world that normally never allows non-Arabs to hold such positions. Ultimately, all exceptions or emergencies come to an end.
Recently, there have been signs of certain parties opting not to recognise the Kurdish presidential role as seen in the deteriorating relations between al-Maliki and Talabani as well as between al-Maliki and other Kurdish leaders like [Massoud] Barzani. We have also witnessed worsening relations between the central and regional governments, along with several campaigns to oust Hoshyar Zebari. This failure to acknowledge the Kurdish presidential role was especially apparent when Talabani’s deputy, Khudair al-Khazani, attended the most recent UN meeting for heads of state, at the time when Talibani was in Germany having recovered from his illness and was able to attend. This is in addition to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit recently held in Tehran, where al-Maliki attended in Talabani’s place.
After returning to Iraq from Germany, Talabani headed to Sulaymaniyah to receive well-wishers. At that time, there was a strong rumour that he would not return to Baghdad. Some may argue that he did indeed return, and this is true, but this was only at Barzani’s request to solve the current crisis. During the days that preceded his coma, when Talabani was devoted to solving the political crisis, there was much talk about his relations with al-Maliki becoming somewhat cold, and about moves to break the ice between them.
It is worth noting that Talabani’s positive efforts to bring together Iraqi dissidents have always been blocked by movements on the ground carried out by the al-Maliki government. Take for example the formation of the Tigris Operations Command, which has been established to thwart such positive endeavours.
Talabani may live longer, which is everyone’s wish except those who are pushing the situation towards further aggravation. However, he may no longer be able to perform his duties owing to his illness or health conditions, or indeed due to the deteriorating relations between Baghdad and Erbil. Therefore, a seizure of all Kurdish positions – i.e. the presidency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chief of Staff and so on –is becoming more probable.