News about Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s health spread before the Iraqi Presidency announced it to the public on its official website on Tuesday, 18 December.
It was, however, a claim about his death that shifted the world focus completely to Iraq.
First it was Iranian Arabic language Al-Alam TV that made the announcement, a caption on its news-ticker read in bold: Breaking News: “Our Correspondent in Baghdad: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Dies”.
It was convincing. Especially as reports leaked earlier already suggested that the president had fell into a coma following a stroke, something the Presidency’s initial announcement described as “a health emergency” following “fatigue”.
But that was not it. Al-Sumaria News, a respectable Iraq news agency whose reports appear across Iraqi media outlets, made the death announcement more official.
At around 1200 GMT it published a report entitled: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Dies.
“According to a medical source, the president passed away following a stroke,” adding that in line with the Iraqi Constitution, the first vice-president would fill his position.
It ended the report with a eulogy.
Although Al-Alam took down the caption and replaced it with another one saying “conflicting reports about Talabani’s health”, Al-Sumaria continued to carry the report until midnight on Tuesday (during the hours monitored). It carried the report alongside updates from the hospital saying that the president’s health was stable. The report was eventually removed on 19 December.
Following Al-Sumariya’s allegation, the Iraqi Presidency website was inaccessible due to overload.
According to reports, Talabani’s health began deteriorating following a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki at the presidential palace in Baghdad the night before.
What is clear is that the meeting indeed took place, but what took place during the meeting remains a mystery, with unconfirmed reports saying harsh words were exchanged between the two leaders.
News about the stroke was first broke by Hawlati, a privately-owned Kurdish newspaper, which released an alert on its website around 0600 GMT on Tuesday, citing a source close to Talabani. Although this was confirmed as the day wore on, Hawlati removed the report as the Presidency website published an announcement saying that the health emergency was caused by “hardened arteries”.
Meanwhile, the two TV stations belonging to Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, KurdSat and Gali Kurdistan, continued to broadcast regular programmings throughout the day, including the former playing songs, even between 1200 and 1400 gmt when the news of his alleged death was being reported.
But they were eventually forced to react. They started carrying a permanent screen caption saying that Talabani’s condition was stable, and that anything which contradicted that was untrue, presumably referring to the news of his death.
The 79-year-old Talabani, a Kurd, has suffered from ill health in the past few years. He was treated for dehydration and exhaustion in Jordan in 2007, a heart operation in the United States in 2008, while he spent three months in Germany in the summer of 2012 where he had a knee operation and continued his recuperation. He reportedly also suffers from diabetes.