In Kurdistan, Talabani’s absence could reopen rifts between his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region.
The two parties waged a power struggle in the 1990s, but then forged an alliance. The parties ‘‘are holding constant meetings to overcome any problems that might emerge in the post-Talabani era,’’ said Alla Talabani, a Kurdish legislator and distant relative.
Kurds and Shiites, persecuted under Saddam, had become political allies after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the fall of the Sunni dictator a decade ago. Sunnis, privileged in the Saddam era, now complain of discrimination and demand the cancellation of anti-terrorism laws and other policies they believe overwhelmingly target them.
Wicken said al-Maliki seems to be goading his opponents into uniting against him with his tactics. Last weekend, parliament approved a law with the help of Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers that would limit prime ministers, presidents and parliament speakers to two terms. It was seen as a warning to al-Maliki, though largely symbolic, since Iraq’s supreme court could quash the measure.
Last year, Talabani blocked an attempt to unseat al-Maliki with a no-confidence vote in parliament. Some, portraying Talabani as beholden to Shiite-led Iran, say he averted the vote to save the al-Maliki government, which has close ties to Iran. Others argue that Talabani tried to end a potentially destabilizing contest that had little chance of success.
For many Iraqis, Talabani’s departure is just one more thing to worry about. ‘‘Talabani enjoys the respect of all Iraqis and his absence has contributed to the spread of the crisis ... in the country,’’ said Akram Ali, a 32-year-old Shiite trader from Baghdad.