Jalal Talabani, Kurdish Leader and Iraq’s First Postwar President, Is Dead at 83
Mr. Talabani was long an ardent campaigner for a sovereign Kurdish state in northern Iraq, where his political beginnings, like his family, were rooted. But he submerged many of those aspirations in his later years as he worked to unify the factions that contested for power after the fall of Mr. Hussein in 2003.
Mr. Talabani was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, which drafted the country’s interim Constitution after the war. The National Assembly named him interim president in April 2005, to succeed Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer. A year later he became the first president to be elected under the new Constitution.
As the war in Iraq wound down in 2010, Mr. Talabani figured in the Obama administration’s plans for a postwar government there. In their 2012 book, “The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama,” Michael R. Gordon, a former correspondent for The New York Times, and retired Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor wrote that Mr. Obama made a confidential call to Mr. Talabani asking him to give up the Iraqi presidency so that a more inclusive government might be formed under Ayad Allawi, a Shiite with broad Sunni support. The administration’s aim, the authors wrote, was to counter what the White House saw as a drift toward authoritarianism under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Mr. Talabani refused. He was re-elected a week later.
Mr. Talabani, widely known as Mam Jalal or Uncle Jalal, cut a Falstaffian figure, typically in bespoke suits. A rotund, gregarious gourmand, he enjoyed nothing so much as a bountiful table and Cuban cigars as he grew wealthy from duties on oil exported illegally through Turkey.
His health was not as robust. He collapsed from exhaustion in February 2007, and an American military plane took him to a hospital in Amman, Jordan. He returned home after 17 days, but that May he went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for rest and treatment for what he called “my obesity.’’ In the summer of 2008, he returned to the Mayo Clinic for an operation to repair a heart valve. Then came the stroke, at the end of 2012, when he was flown to Germany for treatment.
Mr. Talabani was a consummate political survivor and an openhanded pragmatist, if not an ideological chameleon, adept at maintaining his equilibrium in the sectarian, often ruthless environment of postwar Iraq. He was quite capable of startling marriages of political convenience, some ending in equally expedient divorce.
After the Islamic revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran in 1979, for example, Mr. Talabani backed the Iranian Kurds against the regime in Tehran. Later, he allied himself with the Tehran government in its war with Baghdad.
In a 2007 profile in The New Yorker by Jon Lee Anderson, Iraq’s national security adviser, the Shiite politician Mowaffak al-Rubaie, was quoted as calling Mr. Talabani “very difficult to define.”