IRBIL, Iraq — Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish guerrilla leader who became Iraq’s president after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein, and who embodied hopes for a unified, peaceful future through years of strife, has died at the age of 83, Kurdish officials said Tuesday.
Talabani was often seen as a unifying elder statesman who could soothe tempers among Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But the country’s centrifugal forces have only accelerated since he was hospitalized nearly five years ago, as it has battled the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group and faced growing demands for Kurdish independence.
Talabani suffered a stroke in 2012 and was moved to a German hospital later that year for treatment. He died Tuesday after his condition rapidly deteriorated, according to Marwan Talabani, a relative and senior official in the office of Talabani’s son.
His death came days after the Kurds voted for independence, essentially rejecting the vision of a unified, multiethnic Iraq that he had championed in the chaotic years after the U.S.-led invasion.
The vote, which was led by his longtime Kurdish rival, regional President Masoud Barzani, is not expected to lead to Kurdish state anytime soon and has further isolated the landlocked region. Iraq and its neighbors have rejected the vote, and Baghdad has banned flights to the region.
Talabani came from a generation of Kurdish leaders who spent decades fighting for self-rule and whose people were often brutally repressed by the central government.
Talabani is survived by his wife, Hiro Ibrahim Ahmed, and his two sons. One of them is Qubad Talabani, the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish region.