10/04/2017, 10.23
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Kurdish leader Talabani, Iraq's first post Saddam president, has died

Fighter and supporter of Kurdish independence, he represented national unity following the US invasion. In talks with Pope Benedict XVI he spoke about religious freedom and the defense of Christians. The condolences of the Chaldean patriarch. Kurdish deputy: His death saddens "the Arabs, the Kurds and all other ethnicities".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Iraqi Kurdish leader and Iraq’s first post Saddam president, Jalal Talabani, died yesterday at age 83 in Germany where he was hospitalized for deteriorating health conditions. The announcement was made by the Iraqi State TV, which recalled the historical leader of the Kurdish struggle for the birth of an independent state as well as founder in 1975 of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Puk).

His death comes at a time of deep tension between Baghdad and Erbil; the latter held an independence referendum on 25 September, which ended with an overwhelming victory, over 90% in favor.

"We pay tribute to the leader and president Talabani," the deputy of Puk Zana Saïd said in a note. "He is the only president - he added - whose death makes the Arabs, the Kurds and all other ethnicities sad. We pray to God that his death is a factor contributing to the return of [good] relations between Iraqi brothers. "

Even the Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako joins the mourning of the people and institutions for the death of Talabani. In a note published on the patriarchate site and sent to AsiaNews, the primate of the Iraqi Church speaks of "great pain" for the loss of "a great leader of the Kurds and Iraqis", who has contributed to the "security and stability" of the country after the fall of the regime. Mar Sako invokes "mercy and consolation" for the former president and his family.

Born in 1933 in the mountainous village of Kalkan, he studied law at the University of Baghdad and had a spell in the army before joining the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Kdp) of mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of the current Kurdish leader and President Massoud Barzani. "Uncle Jalal," as he was called, fought during the first, great Kurdish revolt of 1961.

In 1975 the birth of the Puk and the beginning of the political and armed struggle with his historic rival Barzani. He was also the number one enemy of former Ra's Saddam Hussein, who oppressed the Kurdish population during his rule, and also massacred masses of the civilian population.

In 2005, two years after the US-led international invasion of Iraq, he became the country's first non-Arab president. He resigned in 2014 after having renewed his mandate twice (2006-2010) and suffered a stroke (2012) that has limited his strength and political vigor in battles over the years to come.

Although the role of president in Iraq is largely ceremonial, during the years of his mandate he was able to mediate between disputes that have opposed the various political, ethnic and confessional souls of the country. A tough negotiator and politician, a fierce opponent of Saddam's execution, he has pursued the cause of Kurdish independence for years before becoming a high level personality in the Iraqi institutional landscape and a man of peace in a nation wracked by violence.

As a state leader, he met Pope Benedict XVI on several occasions with whom he talked about the situation of the Christian minority in Iraq and the defence of religious freedom.

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