Bloomberg News

Iraq President Talabani’s Stroke May Fuel Ethnic Tensions

December 20, 2012

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s heath crisis is “just one more destabilizing factor” for Iraq, said Marina Ottaway, a senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy group. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

(Corrects date he was hospitalized in first paragraph of story published yesterday.)

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the country’s first Kurdish head of state who has sought to balance the nation’s rival ethnic and religious factions, was hospitalized late on Dec. 17 after suffering a stroke, a Kurdish lawmaker said.

Talabani, 79, was treated in Baghdad and was in stable condition, Mahmoud Othman said by phone yesterday from the hospital. His office said earlier that he had taken ill “due to exhaustion and fatigue.” The president was flown today to Germany for further care, Al Arabiya television reported.

If Talabani has to step down and isn’t replaced by a Kurd, that could cause tensions, said Marina Ottaway, a senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy group.

“Talabani was a mediating influence because he managed to keep a foot in both camps,” Ottaway said in a telephone interview. “There’s no doubt he’s a Kurdish nationalist, but he also was Iraq’s president and he managed to straddle the line.”

Ottaway said Talabani’s health crisis is “just one more destabilizing factor” for Iraq. There are tensions between the minority Kurds and the government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is Arab, mainly over royalties from energy resources in Kurdistan.

Potential Disruption

“Certainly, the potential for disruption is there,” Ottaway said.

The Associated Press yesterday cited Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq as saying that medical teams from Germany and Britain would assess whether Talabani’s condition required him to be moved abroad for treatment.

Talabani was chosen as president by Iraq’s parliament in 2005 after the country’s first democratic election in 50 years, which followed the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. He has worked to ease the conflict between Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni community that escalated into violence after the 2003 war, and the tensions between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds over control and distribution of energy resources.

He began his political career in the 1950s and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in 1975. His Peshmerga militia battled Hussein’s army in the 1970s and 1980s, and following the 1991 Gulf War he led a Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi government.

Iraq holds the world’s fifth-biggest crude reserves, according to BP Plc (BP/) statistics that include Canada’s oil sands.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nayla Razzouk in Dubai at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Francis Harris at fharris4@bloomberg.net; John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net


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