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Barham Saleh downplays succession rumors - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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PUK Deputy Secretary General Dr. Barham Saleh. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)

PUK Deputy secretary-general Dr. Barham Saleh. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The post of president of Iraq has sparked a new crisis in country, with elements within the government calling for the need to name a replacement for President Jalal Talabani, currently recuperating in Germany from a stroke he suffered last December.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the Public Prosecution Office demanded that the speaker of the Council of Representatives take legal measures to fill the post because of Talabani’s long absence.

This would require implementing Article 72 of the Iraqi constitution, which sets a limit on the time the post can remain vacant.

Meanwhile, a Kurdish official source told Asharq Al-Awsat that arrangements are being made on various levels to settle this issue, and that the current visit by Barham Saleh, the deputy secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to Iran is intended to do so.

These demands were sparked after the governor of Kirkuk, Dr. Najmaldin Karim, said that he would be visiting Talabani in hospital in Germany, and that he would soon announce good news to Iraqis and Kurds regarding an improvement in the health of the Iraqi president.

However, a Kurdish source who wished to remain anonymous told Asharq Al-Awsat that “even if President Talabani returns to Kurdistan in good health, he will not be able to take up his post as a president of the republic. Therefore, the circumstances are right to find a replacement.”

The source went on to say that Barham Saleh is no longer the most prominent candidate, he is the only candidate.

However, the PUK deputy secretary-general downplayed events. In a telephone interview, Saleh told Asharq Al-Awsat that “President Talabani is the president of the Republic of Iraq and is currently undergoing treatment for the health condition that has afflicted him, and God willing we await his safe and sound return. Therefore, to talk of his replacement is inappropriate and ineffective at this time.”

The former deputy prime minister of Iraq went on to say that “the political and historical statues and consideration towards president Talibani calls for our patience until the completion of his treatment and his return to the homeland, and not creating a crisis out of this subject, which Iraq is not in need of.”

According to the same Kurdish source, Iraqi prime minster Nuri Al-Maliki had reservations regarding Saleh succeeding Talibani, but has backed down because of Iranian pressure and the fact that Maliki needs the presence of a president in order to take on the burden of the state, particularly to maintain balance, and to work on alleviating political conflicts. Maliki feels weak now after being criticized by most political sides.

For his part, Khalid Shwani, the head of the Legal Committee at the Iraqi Council of Representatives, said that the demand of the Public Prosecution office violated the constitution. In a joint news conference with the deputy head of the committee, Amir Al-Kinani, Shwani said that the office does not have the authority to demand the Council of Representatives reconsider the vacant post of the president of the republic, noting that the Public Prosecution Law does not include any article that gives it this authority.