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Iraqi president stroke fuels succession talk

SAMAA | - Posted: Dec 19, 2012 | Last Updated: 9 years ago
Posted: Dec 19, 2012 | Last Updated: 9 years ago

BAGHDAD: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was responding to treatment on Wednesday after suffering a stroke that raised fears of a messy succession battle to replace the Kurd leader who has mediated among Iraq's competing factions.”He is showing clear signs of improvement,” Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Iraq's Kirkuk city who is also a doctor, told Reuters.The 79-year-old former guerrilla, who has helped ease tensions among Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds and in the growing dispute over oil between Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan, was admitted to hospital on Monday night.He was in intensive care with a specialist team including doctors from Germany, where he received treatment in the past.Under Iraq's constitution, parliament elects a new president if his post becomes vacant. Iraq's power-sharing deal calls for the presidency to go to a Kurd while two vice president posts are shared by a Sunni and a Shi'ite.Talabani survived wars, exile and infighting in northern Iraq to become the country's first Kurdish president a few years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.He has since been pivotal in navigating through the political turmoil in Iraq's fragile power-sharing government that is split among Shi'ite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds who also run their own autonomous enclave in the north.”He is the Kurd who is closest to the center. He is so close to the Shi'ites and to the Sunnis,” said Iraqi political analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie. “He is a very important regional player in creating balance.”But in an early sign that any future succession will likely be messy, senior Sunni political leaders suggested they may present their own candidate for the presidency in a challenge to the Kurds.”Some Sunni leaders will sprint to try to get this post,” a Sunni leader in the Iraqiya block said. “But anyone with any sense knows in the end they won't get it.”SUNNIS FEEL MARGINALISEDSince the fall of Saddam Hussein and rise of the Shi'ite majority to power through the ballot box, many Iraqi Sunnis feel they have been marginalized, especially under the government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.Among Kurds, political analysts said former Kurdistan prime minister Barham Salih is favored. But Talabani's exit could also prompt an internal struggle in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party and rival Kurdistan Democratic Party share power.Iraqi law would see one of the vice presidents take over Talabani's duties before the parliamentary vote. But Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive outside of the country after he fled to escape charges he ran death squads.The other vice president is from Maliki's alliance.Any parliament vote would also be complex, with Maliki locked in a struggle with Sunni, Kurdish and some Shi'ite rivals over power-sharing. Talabani was crucial in helping Maliki survive a no-confidence motion directed against him this year.Talabani also recently helped ease a military stand-off between Maliki's central government and the autonomous Kurdistan president, Masoud Barzani, in their long-running dispute over oil-field rights and internal boundaries.But that situation remains sensitive after both regions sent troops to reinforce positions. Underscoring tensions, Kurdish forces opened fire on an Iraqi army helicopter on Tuesday, saying it was spying on their military positions. – AGENCIES

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