Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has now been evacuated to Germany after suffering a stroke. While I wish him the best recovery, what some members of his inner circle tell me gives little reason for optimism. The man can be mourned, but Iraqi politics will not cease. Over at CNN, I discussed some politics surrounding a decision for a successor. The jockeying is now well underway. A few candidates who are out there:
Fuad Masum: A long-time Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official, and so a loyalist to Jalal Talabani, Fuad is the head of the Kurdistan Alliance in Iraq’s parliament. As such, he has an established working relationship with Iraqi parliamentarians from across Iraq’s political (and ethnic) spectrum. His drawbacks are first that many non-Kurds will argue that it is time for a non-Kurd to take the helm, and specifically a Sunni Arab; and that the PUK has been in a state of decline, is probably third in Kurdish popularity now after the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Gorran Party, and so is unworthy of such a post.
Barham Salih: The Kurdistan region’s former prime minister and a former minister of planning in Baghdad, Barham is no doubt capable and, like Jalal Talabani, a polyglot. He will face the same resistance to a Kurd assuming the presidency as Fuad Masum and, while he is better known in the West, he may have less support within the PUK hierarchy.
Hoshyar Zebari: Iraq’s current foreign minister, Hoshyar would be a safe choice should the Kurds demand the slot, but decide that the PUK is no longer a strong enough party to merit one of their own taking the position. Hoshyar is a staunch KDP partisan, and the uncle of the Iraqi Kurdish President Masud Barzani. Hoshyar’s appointment, however, would simply cause the fight to shift over who might fill the foreign ministry, a post at which Barham Salih would be a natural.
Usama an-Nujafi: Iraq’s very capable parliament speaker, Nujafi is a Sunni Arab. While Iraqis will always complain that superficial sectarianism has spoiled Iraqi politics, most engage in superficial sectarianism on a daily basis. Nujafi may be the front-runner for the presidency, if the Kurds can be persuaded to take the speakership of the parliament, a post less prestigious but perhaps more important.
Ayad Allawi: A secular Shi‘ite and former—and, according to his critics, current—Baathist, the former Iraqi interim prime minister is a favorite of the Central Intelligence Agency, Turkey, and surrounding Arab states, many of which have quite openly donated to Allawi’s coffers. While his supporters will note his list—a shaky coalition of former Baathists, secularists, and radical Sunni Islamists—won the most seats in the last elections, he was unable to cobble together the coalition to give him the premiership. This hasn’t changed and, if anything, his popularity has declined among Iraqis in the intervening years. Still, while many Iraqi politicians are down, they are seldom truly out.
No One: The Iraqi president doesn’t have a lot of power, but he has enough to merit distrust of those around him. Whatever the constitutionality of keeping the slot vacant, it is also possible the Iraqi government will stumble along without a resolution or perhaps with a rotation of interim figures until the 2014 parliamentary elections.