Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will not seek re-election after his term ends in 2009. He said he needs to rest after undergoing heart surgery in the U.S. last year, but will remain chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, according to Fuad Masum, a prominent member of parliament from the Kurdish Alliance.
Talabani’s role as a mediator between the ethnic and sectarian groups has taken a toll on him. Although his office does not have executive power in Iraq, he has an essential role in maintaining the ethnic balance of power in the country. Talabani, 75, has served as president since 2005 and has been praised for his efforts to dismantle the ethnic and religious fronts in the government.
The news about the president’s retirement raised questions about the identity of the next president and whether Iraqi Kurds will retain the post of President of the Republic, which as defined by the constitution is the second highest post in the Iraqi government after prime minister.
Kassim Daoud, an independent Shiite MP, said that President Talabani is a unique person with an exceptional character who is not only a Kurd but also a patriot. He added that all parties cooperated and worked with Talabani because they felt his love for and loyalty to Iraq.
The announcement of his departure comes at the onset of a wave of violence in Iraq following a period of relative calm. There have been a number of car bombings in the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, and at the police academy in Baghdad, breaking the calm recently felt in Iraq.
Many are voicing concerns about the retirement of Talabani and the possibility of a struggle for the presidency between Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Both minorities claim the right to the presidency. The majority Shiites maintain the position of prime minister.
[Los Angeles Times, New York Times]