Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, sits waiting to address the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on 23 September 2011. (Photo: AFP Stan Honda)

December 26, 2012 (TSR) – Amid the uncertainty surrounding the health of 79-year-old Iraqi President Jalal Talabani following a recent stroke, many media reports circulated over the weekend concerning possible candidates for succession.

According to the Kurdish media, leaders in Talabani’s party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), were divided over who would succeed Talabani as both party leader and president in the case of his death.

The speculation was limited to three names: Barham Salih, a leader in the PUK; Kosrat Rasul Ali, Talabani’s deputy in the PUK; and Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, Talabani’s wife and leader in the PUK.

Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, sits waiting to address the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on 23 September 2011. (Photo: AFP Stan Honda)

Iraqi Kurdish sources close to Ahmad, such as the leader of the Kurdistan Progressive Party and Ahmad’s brother, claimed that Talabani and his wife’s family had agreed to nominate her to succeed him as president in the event that Talabani passes away. Yet other Kurdish sources said that the successors will ultimately boil down to either Barham Salih and Rasul Ali.

The independent newspaper The Voice of Kurdistan reported on 21 December 2012 that contacts were made with Nawshirwan Mustafa, general coordinator of the Movement for Change (MFC), and long-standing leaders in Talabani’s party, to head off the nomination of Barham Salih since the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani’s would reject Salih’s candidacy.

The newspaper’s sources added that in the event Ahmad is nominated for president, then Barzani would not object, despite the historic animosity between the Ahmad and Barzani families. Other sources were also quoted as saying that Barzani may nominate his son-in-law Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, for the post.

The same sources spoke of a major meeting that will be held in Sulaymaniyah or Germany, where Talabani is receiving treatment, to bring together political and military leaders to settle the issue of Talabani’s succession.

Quoting sources in Sulaymaniyah described as being familiar with the inner workings of the PUK, the Kurdish media reported that the MFC, which had split from the PUK under the leadership of Nawshirwan Mustafa, is attempting to entice lower-level leaders from the PUK to join its ranks. The sources also hinted at the possibility of merging the PUK and the MFC should Talabani’s wife, who has family ties with the latter, succeed her husband as party leader.

Talabani’s succession may also spark a new crisis, given the sharp polarization that marks the country’s political system. This may not be conducive to electing a consensus candidate, as was the case with President Talabani.

Article 70 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates: “The Council of Representatives shall elect, from amongst the nominees, the President of the Republic by a two-thirds majority of its members (i.e. a majority of 218 members). If any of the candidates do not receive the required majority vote then the two candidates who received the highest number of votes shall compete and the one who receives the highest number of votes in the second election shall be declared as President.”

It is worth mentioning that the power-sharing system in Iraq, following the election of the first Council of Representatives in 2005, required for the president of the republic to be a Sunni Muslim, and to have two deputies: a Shia Muslim and an ethnic Kurd.

Because Talabani is Kurdish, his two deputies were a Sunni Muslim and a Shia Muslim, with a Shia prime minister – with two deputies, one Sunni and one Kurdish – and a Sunni Speaker – with two deputies, one Shia and a Kurd.

In addition to the intra-Kurdish struggle for the succession of Talabani, there is also another important factor: the desire of Sunni Arabs to restore control over the presidential post after it was stripped from them in 2004 with a new political power-sharing formula. Prior to 2004, the post was occupied by the Sunni Arab Ghazi al-Yawer.

Yawer went on to compete with veteran politician Adnan Pachachi over retaining the post, but the Shia-Kurdish alliance preferred Talabani over both Yawer and Pachachi. Some Iraqi media outlets reported that the prevailing attitude in the Sunni Arab community is that the Iraqi presidency should return to them in accordance with the sectarian power-sharing system.

Certain circles in the Iraqiya coalition have proposed Speaker of Parliament Usama al-Nujayfi and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq as potential presidential candidates.

Other circles within the Iraqiya coalition do not wish to engage in a battle with the Kurdish parties, fearing that it could increase tensions at a time when the coalition is seeking to improve ties with the Kurdistan Region to counter the influence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.



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