People remember Jalal Talabani at a candle light vigil in Erbil on Tuesday. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Reacting to the death of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, tributes have highlighted his ability to foster dialogue between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias, a trait that some lament the lack of in the aftermath of ISIS and following the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Talabani was named and subsequently elected Iraq’s first non-Arab president – a ceremonial position he filled with spirit.
Former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair led the invasion that toppled Saddam’s regime. Both worked closely with Talabani as they struggled to build a new Iraq. Talabani was a key figure in the committee that drafted Iraq’s new constitution.
In a statement on Talabani’s passing, Bush described the Kurdish leader as a man who “believed in his country and his countrymen.”
"He saw the potential of a free and united Iraq. And he worked tirelessly to deliver peace and liberty to his people. I was honored to work with him and fortunate to have spent time in his presence. Laura and I considered him a friend, and we send our sincere condolences to his family and all those who will miss him," Bush stated.
Blair hailed the “hugely respected” Talabani, writing, “I met him often both in Iraq and London and found him always a source of wisdom, determination and humanity. He had the best interests of his people at heart and helped steer Iraq through turbulent times both as a leader of the Kurdish people and as President of Iraq. He will be mourned by many people in Iraq and abroad."
Many of those mourning his death noted the absence of Talabani’s wisdom and unifying leadership as Iraq is more fractured than ever and the Kurdistan Region stands on the brink of its long-sought independence.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement on his death, said Talabani’s patriotic advocacy for federalism and unity combined with pushing forward Kurdish rights, “plays a key role at this moment in light of the current developments concerning Iraqi Kurdistan.”
A week before Talabani’s death, the people of Kurdistan voted with 92.7 percent support for independence from Iraq in a referendum that has been rejected by Baghdad.
In the days ahead of the September 25 vote on independence, Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masoud Barzani paid tribute to Talabani and wished his “brother” was there to help guide the nation through the independence process.
The Kurdistan Region will mark his passing with seven days of national mourning. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced three days of national mourning, as has the leadership of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria, Rojava.