As Talabani Recovers from Stroke, Questions of Succession Emerge

24/12/2012 RUDAW  – HEVIDAR AHMAD – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is improving, and the ethnically Kurdish leader who is recovering at a Berlin hospital from a serious stroke in Baghdad last week can now open his eyes and gesture with hands, senior officials from his party said.

“Talabani can now open his eyes and he moves his hands; doctors are conducting more tests,” Saadi Ahmed Pira, a member of the Iraqi president’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party told Rudaw

Talabani’s illness and absence from Baghdad comes at a critical time for the Kurdistan Region, an autonomous, energy-rich enclave in northern Iraq.

Until his sudden illness, the 79-year-old Talabani had been engaged in efforts to defuse a weeks-old crisis between Erbil and Baghdad over troop deployments in disputed northern territories that are claimed by both sides.  Forces dispatched by Baghdad and Erbil have been locked in a face-off, with warnings of a possible Kurdish-Arab war on both sides. Adil Murad, the head .of the PUK’s leadership assembly, said that Talabani’s health was no longer critical.  “His condition has greatly improved and the threat of death has passed,” he said. Shortly before he was flown to Germany, Iraq’s first lady Hero Ibrahim Ahmed told the Almada newspaper that she had spoken with Talabani and that he had replied with hand gestures.

Talabani’s illness has raised questions about who would fulfill his duties in his absence, and who would succeed him if he passes away. Murad told Rudaw that in his absence, according to the PUK constitution Talabani’s deputy, Kosrat Rasul Ali, would “replace him and enjoy the same authority as the secretary general.” Murad dismissed speculation that if Talabani passed away most PUK members would split and join the Change Movement (Gorran).   “There is no one to split away. Those who wanted to do so were the ones who joined the Gorran movement (in 2009),” he said.

Talabani’s sudden illness also has raised questions about his post as the Iraqi president.

“It is too soon to speak of a replacement, but for us it is important to know what the PUK’s plans are (in this regard),” Khalid Assadi, an MP from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, told Rudaw. Article 66 of the Iraqi Constitution defines the president’s role, as well as the process of replacing him. “If the president is ill and his doctors say in a report that he is no longer fit for his post, from that day on the Parliament will look into ways of appointing a new president,” said Ahmed Anwar, a judge and former member of the Iraqi Parliament’s legal committee.