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Iraq: Talabani's continued absence stirs controversy - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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FILE - In this 2007 file photo, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani talks to reporters in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban, File)

FILE – In this 2007 file photo, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani talks to reporters in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/ Hadi Mizban, File)

Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The secrecy surrounding the fate of the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has raised a storm of controversy among the upper echelons of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), with the party’s leaders questioning the validity of reports and statements issued by the president’s private doctor Najmaldin Karim and his family about the president’s health.

Despite reassurances from PUK leaders that Talabani is making a strong recovery after suffering a stroke last year and will soon return to Kurdistan, questions remain about the health of the Iraqi president who has remained hospitalized in Germany since December, 2012.

Senior Iraqi figures have recently made serious attempts to visit Talabani in hospital in Germany only to be turned away by his private doctor and family.

Iraqi intellectual Hassan Al-Alawi recently revealed that Speaker of the Iraqi parliament Osama Al-Nujaifi was prevented from visiting Talabani by the president’s family.

Two other requests made by the Iraqi Vice President Khodair Al-Khozaei and Shi’ite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr were also turned down by the president’s family, raising questions about the veracity of reports and statements regarding the president’s improving health.

The uncertainty over Jalal Talabani’s health comes at a critical juncture as the PUK moves to contest the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) parliamentary elections without its traditional ally the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Talabani’s continued absence has begun to compromise the PUK’s electoral momentum, prompting a member of the party’s political bureau, Mala Bakhtiar, to question why Talabani has not appeared in a video or audio message to quash rumors of his ill-health and bolster the flagging PUK election campaign.

A PUK source speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity said: “The party is in a very critical situation in terms of the elections and we need every effort possible to win over the Kurdish public and restore our popularity.”

The source added that Talabani’s failure to appear in public “is evidence of the invalidity of the reports and statements previously issued that not only said that his health was improving but also predicted his imminent return to Kurdistan months ago.”

The source supported Bakhtiar’s statement, emphasizing that if Talabani were to appear in public, even for a few seconds, this would “change the entire [electoral] equation.”

In a press conference held in Germany on May 17, Talabani’s private doctor Najmaldin Karim announced that “the president’s health is very good and is improving day by day.”

Talabani’s stroke last year and continuing health problems has raised the issue of presidential succession in Iraq.

Well-informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The family of the president prefers to leave this subject until the end of his term in office which is due to end by the time of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.”

“[Talabani’s] wife expressed this desire to the Iranian leadership during her visit to Iran,” the source said, adding that Tehran succeeded in “convincing the Shi’ite leaders in the Iraqi government to maintain silence on the issue of Talabani’s presidency and succession.”

For his part, independent Kurdish MP Mohamed Othman said, “Parliament cannot propose an alternative to the president unless a medical report detailing the president’s health condition is issued first.”