Friday, May 11, 2007

Jalal Talabani

Today, at the Cambridge Union, Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, gave a speech and held a question and answer session. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to this event, and watched the whole affair from a balcony seat.

The security at the event was tight, for obvious reasons. (No suicide bombers allowed.) There were hordes of police officers outside the Union building. Supposedly, many of them were from the Special Branch, which specialises in combatting terrorism. There were metal detectors specially installed outside of the Union which all attendees had to pass through. There were also bag searches by police officers. I saw armed police officers inside the Union, an odd sight in Great Britain outside of airports. Furthermore, I saw at least one person whom I think was one of Talabani's bodyguards, an extremely rough looking Arab man standing outside a room where a luncheon was being held.

Talabani himself was a rather disappointing speaker. He gave the impression of a rather doddering old man, albeit a nice one. His talk was not particularly interesting, as it focused on his political career and was actually difficult to follow for someone who was not already deeply familiar with the history of Iraq, especially Kurdistan. However, it was interesting to learn that this major ally of the United States and the Bush administration cut his political teeth largely in Communist and Marxist organizations. He described visiting places such as the People's Republic of China to gather solidarity for the Kurdish people.

The question and answer session was somewhat more interesting. Some of the questions were rather revealing. For instance, when asked about current American tensions with Iran, President Talabani subtly indicated that Iraq was not eager for the two countries to come to blows, and boasted of Iraq's role in bringing them together at the negotiating table. Other questions, however, just elicited political spiel, as in the claim that Iraq would be able to take over its own security within a year or two, a claim that we started hearing a year or two ago.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Nice commentary... I was there too and have my own account here:

http://nicholasthartman.com/blog/2007/05/11/iraqi-president-jalal-talabani/

Seems like most people felt the same way... the first 40 minutes of his prepared 'speech' put everyone to sleep but the Q&A was much more interesting. He seemed like a nice man, but I don't think most people left feeling any more confident in the Iraqi government.