Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was a subject of some speculation once more this week after Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party spokesman, Azad Jindiyani, said that Talabani would remain head of the party “as long as he is alive.”
Speaking during a press conference in Erbil, Jindiyani said: “There is no talk about the post of Secretary-General or an alternative to him at this time.”
The PUK suffered a severe electoral setback at the latest Kurdistan parliamentary elections, with the Gorran (Movement for Change) led by Nawshirwan Mustafa supplanting Talabani’s party as Kurdistan’s second party.
Many analysts attribute the PUK’s weak showing to Talabani’s absence from the electoral campaign. Talabani has been receiving medical treatment in Germany since December 2012 following a stroke.
The latest speculation over Talabani’s health were fueled by comments from Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi and Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada Al-Sadr. Both Sadr and Nujaifi said it was not viable for Iraq’s presidency to remain absent for so long, citing a lack of information regarding Talabani’s health.
Concerns over Talabani’s health escalated this week after the independent Kurdish Hawlati newspaper highlighted a leaked diplomatic cable—citing a conversation between KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and a
senior US diplomat—describing fears over the repercussions of Talabani’s death. The cable said that Barzani feared Iranian influence in areas under the influence of the PUK, particularly Sulaymaniyah province, following Talabani’s death.
According to the cable, Barzani says that Talabani’s death or incapacitation would lead to widespread chaos and confusion in Kurdistan, offering Tehran the opportunity to take advantage to expand its influence, particularly in Sulaymaniyah.
The cable added that Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) members were praying for Talabani’s survival, affirming that his mere presence was enough to ward off any danger from Iran.
While the first part of Jalal Talabani’s political memoirs, dealing with his life between 1933-1966, was published in Beirut in both Arabic and Kurdish. Many view this as a sign that Talabani’s political life has come to an end.
Commenting on public fears regarding the president’s death, a source close to Talabani told Asharq Al-Awsat that the timing of these events—Sadr and Nujaifi’s comments, the statement by the PUK spokesman, and the publication of Talabani’s memoirs—are a coincidence, and do not indicate any general consensus or trend regarding the Iraqi president’s health.
The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, affirmed: “The issues being raised about Talabani’s health are a coincidence. The president’s memoirs were ready to publish, and in fact they were expected to be published more than two months ago, but they were delayed until now for technical reasons.”
As for the recent official comments, the source said they “reaffirm the party leadership’s position that they will not abandon Talabani’s leadership, and that they are waiting for his safe return following his medical treatment abroad.”
When asked about the KRG prime minister’s fears of Iran extending its influence in the event of Talabani’s death, the source said: “That is the reality, there are truly fears over Iran exploiting the PUK’s situation if the president were to die, God forbid,”