Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jalal Talabani's health crisis


Jalal Talabani (above) was taken to the hospital last night.  All Iraq News notes a statement from his office stated that it was a health emergency and that the President of Iraq was fatigued due to the recent political crisis and from his efforts to mediate the crisis between Baghdad and Erbil.  Alsumaria also notes the statement and states he was exhausted.  Aaad Abedine (CNN) was among the first to note it was a stroke and in the most recent update quotes Kurdistan Alliance MP Mahmoud Othman stating, "His health condition is not very good."

Ssuadad al-Salhy, Isabel Coles, Patrick Markey and Michael Roddy (Reuters) cite unnamed "government sources" declaring Talabani in "critical but stable condition."  Also citing government sources, Alsumaria reports Talabani's health is deteriorating and that he is now in a coma while Kitabat cites an unnamed medical source who states that Talabani is "clinically dead.".  All Iraq News notes that he has not regained conscious and that brain damage is feared.  They also note that Talabani's office has issued a new statement declaring the emergency health condition -- they're not using "stroke" -- is a result of the hardening of his arteries and repeat the statement that his condition is stable.

As we noted years ago (I believe it was back in 2007 -- Jalal had gone to Jordan for his health and ended up in the Mayo Clinic in the US), he was just released from the Mayo Clinic when he and his aides stopped at a book store and he collapsed.  He is a very large man and it took a team of his aides to lift him.  His artery problems are well known and have been noted here repeatedly.  We've also repeatedly noted his refusal to follow the diet doctors have put him on (here, I'm referring to the type of foods and not even the fact that the doctors have also been demanding he lose weight -- since 2007, he has actually gained weight).  At 79, he really should be able to eat what he wants.  He's lived a long life.  However, my opinion, he lost that 'right' when he became President and when he sought a second term.  When you're the president or prime minister of a country, you need to be in strong health and, if you're not, you need to be following doctor's orders.

It is true that a perfectly healthy 38-year-old Iraqi president could have a health crisis at any minute or be killed by a random act.  But the difference here is that Talabani was warned (repeatedly) about his health and still sought a second term.  If he has had a stroke (again, his office is not using that term), unless it was a mild stroke, you're talking about weeks and weeks of therapy (at least).  If he is as bad as some reports are stating?

All Iraq News cites the Constitution and explains that should the office of president become vacant, the vice president would preside for no more than 30 days.  There would be an election (elected by the Parliament) within 30 days to determine who would be the next president.  We'll come back to that in a minute.  Kitabat notes politicians are discussing succession issues and, should Talabani step down, pass away or be unable to continue in office, most are stating that Talabani's deputy in the PUK, Barham Salih, would be the next elected president of Iraq.

Let's talk the Constitution.  If a vice president needs to replace Talabani -- temporarily or for 30 days until a new one can be elected -- it's not actually automatically going to the person All Iraq News thinks.  Though it's doubtful he would or could grab the post, the fact remains that Tareq al-Hashemi remains one of Iraq's two vice presidents.  The fact remains that he remains in office and that this is his second term.  He's served in office since 2006.

As such, he would be the first choice legally to replace Talabani for 30 days.  Not Khodair al-Khozaei (who, like Nouri, is from the Dawa political party).

There is the issue of Nouri's witch hunt of Tareq and the conviction that has now led to five death penalty sentences.  Legally, none of those have bearing because Tareq needed to be stripped of office to be tried.  He was not stripped of his office nor did the Parliament vote a judicial waiver to allow for any trial.  So, in effect, the trial and the veredict and the sentencings that have followed are all moot.

I doubt very seriously Tareq would go back into Iraq at this point.  But he might.  By Constitution and by custom, if Jalal needed to be temporarily replaced, Tareq al-Hashemi would be the first in line of succession. 

 The Iraqi presidency is a ceremonial post but the position can kill legislation, can prevent executions, is supposed to be the guardian of the Constitution and more. Article 64 of the Iraqi Constitution notes, "The President of the Republic is the Head of the State and a symbol of the unity of the country and represents the sovereignty of the country. He safeguards the commitment to the Constitution and the preservation of Iraq's independence, sovereignty, unity, the security of its territories in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution."

Monday afternoon, Al Mada notes, Jalal's office announced he and Nouri al-Maliki would be hosting a Kurdish delegation in Baghdad who would dialogue about resolving the existing problems. Along with the powers granted by the Constitution, Talabani brings to the office his own personal base and an international image which he has been able to harness to strong effect many times.  (His walking out on the no-cofindence vote last spring is his most embarrassing moment of his second term.)  His power base is also strengthened by Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, First Lady of Iraq.  Dropping back to the December 5th snapshot:

Among other things, she is over the charity Kurdistan Save the Children.  Like many notable Iraqis, her family has a long history of involvement in Iraqi politics and in being persecuted.  Novelist Ibrahim Ahmad was her father.  He was also a judge and one of the first chairs of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (the first after it changed its name).  Moving up the political chain in Iraq has always meant creating enemies.  He would end up in Abu Ghraib prison for two years.  He would go on to become an editor of a newspaper and, more importantly to the political situation, the voice of the KDP following it's split into two parties -- the other, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, would be headed by Mustafa Barzani.    Today the PUK is headed by Massoud Barzani who is also the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government.  He is the son of the late Mustafa Barzani.  Mustafa's grandson is KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. 

And if those links and connections alone make Hero Ibrahim Ahmed's story one of the basic histories of Iraq, let's note that she's also the First Lady of Iraq, she's married to President Jalal Talabani.  She's also begun a new project aimed at celebrating the rich diversity in Iraq.   Al Mada reports that she initated yesterday Kirkuk for Social Awareness, a program to ensure that diversity and nationality is protected in Kirkuk.  One aspect of the program, she explained to government officials in Kirkuk yesterday, is the creation of a song that will bring in all the languages spoken by the people of Iraq and recognize the diversity.  She stressed that this would include the Mandaeans whose language, UNESCO has warned, is in danger of vanishing.   The Mandaeans numbered a little over 50,000 in Iraq prior to the start of the war in 2003.  Some estimates now put their number as low as 5,000.   Many fled to Jordan and Syria during the ethnic cleansing years of roughly 2006 through 2008. 

Between his own image and the power his wife supplies to his image, that's a large degree of power and it is unlikely the next president of Iraq will have that kind of power base.  (Next president?  I am not saying Jalal Talabani is dying or even at death's door.  I am saying he's in his second term and the Constitution does not allow him to run for a third.)

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