PUK must not under-estimate the impact of Talabani’s ill-health

By Mufid Abdulla: Kurdistan Tribune – 25.8.2012 – Talibani has been absent from Iraq since 16th June when he left for a knee operation that took place on 20th June. An orthopaedic consultant, who preferred to stay anonymous, has told the media that, while Talabani’s age would inevitably mean a longer recovery time, there was “nothing abnormal about his treatment, only a few minor complications in his case such as diabetes, which might have some side effects”.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) spokesman Azad Jundiani claims: “Talabani’s health is very good and all his friends and relatives should be pleased by this news”. Barham Salih, PUK first deputy general secretary, states: “We prefer Talabani to complete all his treatments before returning to Iraq”.

The PUK second deputy, Kosrat Rasul, asserts: “Talabani is in every way in touch with all the Iraqi and Kurdistan parties in the political arena”.

However, despite these optimistic assertions, it is surely timely to ask: What will happen to the PUK and its leadership since Talabani is clearly incapable of carrying out his duties (and this has probably been the case for the last few years)?

A certain sensitivity is understandable: The last thing Talabani himself wants is a spectacular implosion to disrupt the transfer of power to a new generation. But the PUK rulers are unlikely to embrace the virtues of openness and transparency any time soon. To me most of these leaders are more like warlords than political figures. All have their own brigades, bodyguards and mafia-type gangs which are strong enough to disrupt the economy.

But it is still strange and alarming that, to date, the prolonged ill health of Talabani has not been considered as a good reason to plan ahead and establish a collective leadership for the PUK.

During my recent visit to the region I have spoken to many people and heard two scenarios for the aftermath of Talabani.

The PUK warlords will have their day after the death of Tabalani. They have the resources and capability to do anything they want. Talabani has tried hard, before his departure to Germany and during his treatment, to repair the damage he did previously to his relationship with the Gorran leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa. Within a space of four weeks Talabani sent two cordial messages to the Gorran leadership but he got no reply. Basically, Talabani’s hope for Nawshirwan to take over the PUK as his successor has been dashed. Instead the PUK will probably become one of smaller organisations, like the KIU and others.

Most of the PUK grassroots and a few of the leaders will come to Gorran seeking a unified platform against corruption and for change.

The hard truth, although the media here is pretty quiet about the issue, is that, after Talibani, the PUK faces a black hole. It is the time for the PUK membership to elect their future leadership before the situation is taken out of their hands, as we saw in the case of Zana Hama Salih, the murdered former mayor of Suli, and with the attack on Asos Hardi, head of the Awena company, with the involvement of a PUK politburo member and his wife.

The PUK must act like a modern, civilised party and not a Stalinist-style one. There is still time for the PUK to make changes and consolidate its forces before the 2013 election.