What Talabani’s Death means for the Future of Iraq

Without a doubt, Talabani’s own party, the PUK, will most directly feel the impact of his passing. The movement had weakened when Talabani’s deputy, Nawshirwan Mustafa, had left the PUK and founded Gorran (Movement for Change) in 2009. The PUK became crippled and riddled with acute factional infighting after Mam Jalal’s health declined in 2012.

Barham Salih, one of Mam Jalal’s deputies, recently left the PUK to form his own political entity and participate in the upcoming Kurdish elections on Nov. 1. After Mam Jalal’s death, it will be even more difficult to maintain the unity of his movement and overcome the differences among its many leading personalities and factions.

Talabani’s death will also help to strengthen Barzani, at least for the foreseeable future. Without Talabani on the political stage and with the leaders of Turkey’s Kurdish movement — from Abdullah Ocalan to Selahattin Demirtas — behind bars, Barzani is likely to emerge as the only Kurdish leader with national stature and international reputation.

That comes with a price: In the absence of Kurdish checks and balances, Barzani’s aspirations could only be checked by a number of regional and international players. Until now, these players contributed to the further destabilization of the Middle East. As a man who could build bridges, reach compromise and operate and establish balance, Talabani’s absence would be felt more than ever.

Mam Jalal was not only a larger-than-life figure, but he was a Kurd larger than Kurdistan itself. The Middle East, along with Kurdistan and Iraq, will become even more dangerous without him.

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