Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Ailing Iraqi President Jalal Al-Talabani will return to his country on Saturday after a year and a half in Germany receiving medical treatment, his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party said Friday.
The 80-year-old, who has been receiving specialist medical treatment following a stroke, will resume his duties as president, according to the PUK statement.
A PUK MP, Abdulaziz Hussein, said: “Talabani’s return at this critical stage in the history of Iraq carries several symbolic implications. Talabani has been the security valve of the political process over the last period and his absence has left a very clear impact on it, whether on the level of the relationship between the center [Baghdad] and the [Kurdistan] region, or in terms of the disputes and conflicts between the political blocs.”
The government of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region has announced plans to hold a public referendum on independence, as politicians in Baghdad struggle to form a government following April 30 legislative elections and the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues a military offensive that saw it seize territory in northern and western Iraq last month.
But Hussein ruled out the possibility of Talabani playing a role in the current political stalemate. He said: “President Talabani’s health condition may not allow him to involve himself in divisive issues.”
The Kurds, to whom the Iraqi Presidency is given under the terms of an informal constitutional arrangement settled upon after the 2003 invasion, have yet to agree on a candidate to replace Talabani.
Another senior member of the PUK, Arez Abdullah, told Asharq Al-Awsat his party would meet Sunday to discuss the issue. Sunday is the deadline for Kurdish parties to submit their candidates for the presidency to the Iraqi parliament.
According to Abdullah, several PUK members have nominated themselves for the post, and the party is hoping to submit a single consensus candidate to parliament.
Barham Salih, the PUK’s vice-president, and the governor of Kirkuk, Najmadin Karim, are seen as the main contenders for the post. Reports have suggested Karim might have the edge, after Karim allegedly clashed with both PUK leadership and Talabani’s wife, Hero.
“The PUK’s politburo has not resolved the issue of the [presidential] post yet, and there is a lack of consensus on either Saleh or Karim. According to senior figures in the PUK, the issue will be resolved within two days,” Kurdish political analyst Jarjees Kolizad told Asharq Al-Awsat.
According to Kolizad, Salih will most likely get the post, particularly since “the majority of the PUK’s politburo supports him.”
He said: “Salih is widely accepted by Iraqi factions, particularly the Shi’ites and key Sunni forces. He is also a well-known figure both in the region and the world.”