Photographs of Iraqi president released

Reuters, ERBIL, Iraq

Sun, May 19, 2013 - Page 5

The first photographs of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani since he suffered a stroke last year were released on Friday, in an apparent attempt to dampen speculation about the Kurdish statesman’s health.

The undated pictures showed Talabani, who turns 80 this year, seated outdoors at a table with people dressed in white medics’ coats.

They gave no obvious clues to the state of his health.

Talabani’s doctor has repeatedly said he is responding well to treatment in Germany, but rumors about his condition have been rife and many Iraqis believe he is too frail to return to political life.

Last week, the Iraqi prosecutor-general submitted a request to the Iraqi parliament to look into replacing the ailing president.

As president, Talabani used his extensive connections to mediate, if not resolve, disputes between Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and ethnic Kurdish factions, which have intensified since the withdrawal of US troops in December 2011.

Talabani is also leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which co-governs the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq.

His absence has raised questions about the party’s future and shaken up politics in the self-ruling enclave.