COLUMN: Why The News Blackout Over the Iraqi President’s Health?

by Wladimir van Wilgenburg – RUDAW – 31.3.2013 – Wy have we not seen any pictures of Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani since he suffered an acute stroke last December and was rushed to Germany, where he has been reportedly recuperating ever since? When Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez was hospitalized not long ago, his administration did release photographs, which were published around the world. But the absence of any images of the ethnically Kurdish Talabani has raised serious doubts about his health.

Do his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party and his family want to respect his privacy and have therefore not wanted to show pictures of him in hospital, or are they trying to hide his real condition?

What we hear from PUK officials is that his health is steadily improving, with some officials saying he might return to Iraq very shortly.  Dr Najmaldin Kerim, a prominent Kurdish physician and member of the PUK’s politburo, has said that Talabani was able to speak again.  The president’s wife has reportedly spoken to her husband by telephone.  And yet, neither the PUK or Talabani’s family have publicly released any recent photographs or audio recording to back their statements. An old picture recently posted on a Facebook page of PUK supporters showed Talabani being interviewed by a journalist of a PUK-affiliated news outlet, prompting new discussion over his situation.

There were claims that Talabani has died, or is so ill that he will never be able to recover to lead his party.   There have been rumors and speculation that the PUK is hiding his health situation in order to prepare for a stable post-Talabani period.

The PUK has held meetings in Kurdistan with the opposition and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), its partner in the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.  PUK officials also have visited neighboring countries Iran and Turkey.  The PUK seems confident about its future, despite allegations that the disclosure of Talabani’s health would create tensions inside the party. Unless Talabani returns to Iraq, or proof of his health condition is released, the swirling rumors about him will continue to grow.