Life after Talabani

5 June. By Michael Rubin:

Iraqi President and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani has returned to Iraq from a two week sojourn at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he underwent medical tests and treatments. While President Talabani is up and about now, there is always suspicion when a visit is so opaque. There may be no reason to suspect anything more serious than old age and poor diet but, even so, the decline in his health is apparent to anyone who sees him. Everyone grows old.

It’s time for both Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq to have an open discussion about what will happen after Talabani’s death. By ensuring a transparent and smooth transition, Talabani can give a lasting gift to Iraq and Kurdistan.

Kurds—and Americans and Europeans, for that matter—are tired of the Byzantine maneuvering among Kosrat Rasul, Barham Salih, and other PUK functionaries and Talabani family members for supremacy in the party. Kurdish leaders like to describe themselves as democrats. Ordinary people know, however, that self-descriptions in the Middle East are meaningless. After all, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni leader Ali Abdullah Saleh also called themselves democrats. And while PUK leaders also describe themselves as reformers, so does Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The test of true democracy is the repeated peaceful transfer of power between political opponents. The people of Sulaymani, regardless of which party they voted for, deserve to know what will happen to the party and its property the day after Talabani’s funeral. There simply is too much risk for chaos and political instability if the transition is undefined. Certainly, Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani has plans for the day after Talabani’s demise. That Talabani will not discuss the future openly does a disservice both to his supporters and to other residents of Sulaymani, and raises the prospect of instability and violence.

Discussion of transition is equally important in Baghdad. Talabani had done a good job as Iraq’s president even if, especially since the last election, his post is more ceremonial than functional. Still, Talabani’s absence will leave a void in Baghdad. Kurds may have a definitive opinion about their role in Baghdad and perhaps preservation of a Kurd in the presidency, but there is no consensus among Iraq’s myriad communities. Kurds may assume the precedent they established for post-Saddam Iraq is sacrosanct, but Iraq does not have a Lebanon-style confessional system, and many Iraqis will resist its implementation. Talabani’s failure to discuss what happens after his incapacitation or death is selfish and undercuts the long-term strategic position of Kurds in Iraq. After all, Kurds demanded the presidency as insurance for their own security in Iraq, especially given the abuses they had suffered in the past.

Talabani should accept his own mortality and start the transition discussion now. He need not step down, but that is no reason not to talk about what or who comes next. Here, he can make a true contribution to both Iraqi and Kurdish democracy. Transition discussions are anathema to politicians like regional president Masud Barzani, who will never engage in such talk voluntarily, but they are extremely valuable in democracies in which leaders recognize they serve the people and not vice versa. The initiation of such a discussion by Talabani will create a precedent that Barzani would find difficult to resist while if he still wishes to cloak himself in the mantle of democracy.

Talabani’s legacy is not yet fully written. Certainly it will be mixed: On one hand, he was a great freedom fighter who brought Kurds unprecedented opportunities. Under his tutelage, Sulaymani experienced a renaissance, and he will go down in history as Iraq’s first Kurdish president. On the other hand, his behavior during the Kurdish civil war, massive corruption, and nepotism will tarnish his memory. If, in his twilight years or months, Talabani can put Kurdistan on track to become a true democracy rather than an oligarchy, he might leave Iraq and Kurdistan on a positive note.


14 Responses to Life after Talabani
  1. KarwanKarim
    June 6, 2011 | 04:52

    You’re naive if you think that just because Talabani doesn’t go on the View to discuss what to do next or tweet “who should be my successor?” that there aren’t discussions about these things. Furthermore, the assumption that he’d just appoint someone and say ‘hey, this is the leader of the PUK’ reeks of the kind of middle eastern despotism that you claim over and over again to be so against. There is no reason for FUD, even though I get that such tactics do get you page clicks as you continue your ever-so biased vendetta against the KRG (to the extent that it was, to this reader, shocking to read you write “Talabani had done a good job as Iraq’s president”) : people know that if Talabani retires there’ll be an election to see who the next General Secretary of the PUK is. Simples.

  2. Desmond
    June 6, 2011 | 09:51

    Thank you Michael for the article and I really appreciate your close observation and your political analysis. PUK at the moment do not have any contingency plan for after Talabani and this is for two reasons:
    1. They won’t be able to face that challenge because there is no structure in place.
    2. Talabani himself thinks after he is dead on the grounds that he loves himself and he does not want to see any peace afterwards.

  3. Dr. Dylan
    June 6, 2011 | 12:44

    I have been reading almost all your articles about Kurdistan. I respect your way of thinking and writing related the Kurdish issue. One thing I do not understand is why you are so negative about Kurdish issue and their leaders. OK, they are not perfect and they are part of the Middle East with all the political complexities that well known for every one. For God sake be little bit moderate in your writing and give them some credit to their role in the new era of Iraq and Kurdistan. There are many changes in PUK in the last couple years and waves of young people emerge from them that can handle the after-Talabani death era with no major problems. PUK (as well as PDK) faced many extreme challenges and difficulties in their history but they always recovered…. Also why the hell you compare him with Assad or Mubarak (again no comparison between the last two) Please be objective 🙂

    • shno siddik
      June 7, 2011 | 10:07

      First of all i want to thank Mr. Rubin for writing good articles about Kurds and Kurdish society. I think we as Kurds need people just like you to speak about Kurdish issues. And i have a comment for Dr. Dylan – why you are worried when a professional person comes to write on such an important issues and shows the facts?

  4. Naska Rwandzy
    June 7, 2011 | 08:34

    Thank you Mr. Michael Rubin… You are really know what eaxctly going on here….Actually the two parties PUK and KDP are two big trade companies lead by two enemies of yesterday and brothers of today.
    Actually PUK is more open than KDP but Talabani surrendered to Barzani and now saying:
    1. I was wrong in 1966
    2.Gulan Revolution of KDP was already there when PUK start new revolution in 1976.
    Frankly, Kurdistan needs to be institutionalized by general rules and priciples and the obedience to be to an independent supreme authority, not tribal leaders such as Barzani’s and Talabani’s families.
    There is one thing came to my mind – if Mr. Michael Rubin can take into consideration that there are some American personnel and many retired American Generals in Iraq who have become partners with both leaders and get OIL revenues in Kurdistan. At the same time the people of Garmyan area will get less that $3 per day.
    I hope Mr Talabani wakes up before passing away and says ‘no’ to corruption otherwise he will lose what remains of his morality..

  5. Srwa
    June 7, 2011 | 09:48

    We hope that tribal leaders will go out from Kurdistan.
    Thanks Mr. Rubin for your essay and views..

  6. Dr.Ako Sherwani
    June 7, 2011 | 11:23

    After Jalal Talabani. Barzani and his family will become the most powerful leaders of Kurdistan and they will rule with an iron fist. “The era of ignorance and barbarism”

  7. Dilshad Xoshnaw
    June 7, 2011 | 11:55

    Michael Rubin has been building a big part of his career on exploiting the Kurdish issue. He is very much interested like his Turkish masters to weaken the KRG and, as one of the many machiavelli rules goes: “anything that can weaken your enemy is acceptable”.

    So to support the unholy alliance of his American conservative, military industrial complex and their conservative fascist Turkish military, he needs to attack Barzani and the KRG.

    There are of course plenty of opportunities to attack the KRG.It is obvious that after 100s of years of destroying Kurdistan by our enemies, our people are devastated and there are so many shortcomings in the society and accordingly in the KRG and so you will always find dozens of reasons to criticize.

    The sad thing is that many Kurds are so naive and rejoice every time Mr Rubin attacks Barzani and Talabani because they are so angry about the corruption or personally hate Barzani and Talabani and because they don’t know about the background and motivation why Mr Rubin is behaving the way he behaves.

    So I just can tell my fellow Kurds, don’t jubiliate for Mr Rubin because he doesn’t care about you and your human rights and freedoms.If he had cared about the human rights of Kurdish people he wouldn’t have defended the Turkish fascists.

    To my fellow Kurds I would say, if you have something to criticize about your government, do it yourself and trust yourselves but you don’t need to support someone who misuses our problems to please his Turkish friends.

    And one last word to Mr. Rubin:

    There is an old saying in the middle east that goes like this:

    “Dogs are barking… but the caravan moves on.. ”

    Biji Kurdistan
    Dilshad Xoshnaw

    (This comment has been moderated).

    • Editor
      June 9, 2011 | 10:23

      By way of a very brief response to this comment, we refer readers to Michael’s first article for The Kurdistan Tribune:

      • Dilshad Xoshnaw
        June 9, 2011 | 15:48

        Dear Editor,

        thank you for pointing us to that article.
        Here we go again, Mr. Rubin thinks he is very smart and shows us one more machiavelian exercise.
        He knows exactly that every decent Kurd is deeply insulted by this turkish military presence in South Kurdistan and by poking around in this wound he tries to create opposition and outrage against Barzani.

        I don’t think that Barzani is really happy with the turkish presence in Kurdistan.
        In fact Barzani and the parlament in Hewler insisted in 2007 that all those Turks should leave Kurdistan but Turkey didn’t even bother to respond and as one can imagine the KRG is too powerless for such a frontal confrontation unless the Americans are sincerely supporting us Kurds.
        Besides this is one of the dozens of major problems they have and await a resolution.

        Mr. Rubin is an advisor for the US defence department. He probably has more influence in such a matter by advising his ministry accordingly than a powerless KRG that would starve if the Turks stopped their poisonous food imports.

        For interested readors just read a few of Mr. Rubin’s articles where he attacks Erdogan as hard as he can and justifies his friends among the turkish military junta..
        there you can see where the winds are blowing from.

        Just to simplify the picture: his world consists of 2 parts:

        – the hawks within the defense department with their friends in the military industrial circles on one side and their hawkish and antikurdish allies among the turkish military, nationalist Atatürk followers are “OK”..

        – on the other side.. all who are in the way of the fraction above are “EVIL”..

        We have the 21st century and we Kurds should stop looking up to foreigners to tell us what is wrong and what is right. Kurds are intelligent enough to know that for themselves.

        Slaw u rez

  8. Michelle
    June 8, 2011 | 15:21

    A very well prepared and analysed article. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  9. Rebaz Q
    June 9, 2011 | 18:47

    Overall, his point is valid that there needs to be a plan, and I am sure there is. This is a common sense issue, really, but it is just another excuse for him to take some shots at the KRG.


  10. Naska Rwandzy
    June 13, 2011 | 10:53

    I would like to say some words on Mr. Khoshnaw’s article:
    We are not so naïve as to support someone who attacks the Kurds and we do not think that Mr. Michael Rubin is of that type. We must distinguish between two things. First is the dictatorship rule of Barzani and Talabani, who killed more than 4000 citizens during their conflict in the last decade of the past century, and the second is their corruption and the establishment of KDP and PUK companies while still the Halabja victims of chemical weapons not treated well. I hope that Mr. Khoshnaw has no shares in these companies.

    • Dilshad Xoshnaw
      June 13, 2011 | 23:12

      Dear Miss Rwandzy,

      I really can’t see any relevance of your words in regards to my notes.

      Whether Barzani and Talabani are dictators or not was not what my remarks were about.
      It is about the dishonesty and the dirty game that this gentleman Mr. Rubin is playing by exploiting the kurdish issue and its complexities to serve his purposes as described above.

      I obviously don’t know your age and your political and social experiences but it seems to me that you are muddling emotions with facts. For an honest and objective assessment of any matter you have to be able to seperate emotions from facts.

      Dilshad Xoshnaw

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL