Jalal Talabani, former Iraqi president and Kurdish politician, has died in Germany aged 84.

He, was Iraq’s president from 2005 to 2014 and a key figure in Iraqi Kurdistan, where voters last week overwhelmingly backed independence in a controversial referendum.

“Our leader died in Germany,” an official with Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said on Tuesdsay.

A family member said Talabani’s health had taken a turn for the worse and he been transported to Germany, along with his wife and two children, before the referendum.

Zana Said, Iraqi Kurdish politician, paid tribute to Talabani as “the only president whose death saddens Arabs, Kurds and all other ethnicities”.

“We pray to God that his death will help to bring back good relations between the brothers of Iraq.”

Decades-old struggle

Talabani’s death, following a decades-old struggle for Kurdish statehood, came after Iraq’s Kurds voted 92.7 percent to split from Iraq in the September 25 referendum.

The vote, rejected by the Iraqi central government as illegal, has put deep strain on ties between the Kurds and central Iraqi authorities, who have cut off international flights to the region and threatened further action.

Talabani took to the hills in a first uprising in 1961[Getty Images]

Talabani was an avuncular politician and a skilled negotiator, who spent years building bridges between the country’s divided factions, despite his efforts for Kurdish independence.

Born in 1933 in the mountain village of Kalkan, he studied law at Baghdad University and did a stint in the army before joining the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of Masoud Barzani, current Kurdistan regional president.

Talabani took to the hills in a first uprising against the Iraqi government in 1961 but famously fell out with Barzani, who sued for peace with Baghdad, and joined a KDP splinter faction in 1964.

Eleven years later, he established the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after Barzani’s forces, abandoned by their Iranian, US and Israeli allies, were routed by Saddam Hussein’s army.

Ceremonial role

Talabani became president in April 2005 after the first post-Saddam election in Iraq and continued in the post until 2014.

Iraq’s head of state plays a largely ceremonial role and is elected by members of parliament.

In August 2008, the married father of two underwent successful heart surgery in the USs, then in 2012 he was flown to Germany after suffering a stroke, casting doubt over his ability to ever return to Iraq.

He did go back in July 2014, with Iraq in crisis after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group had taken control of big expanses of the country.

Talabani was replaced by Fouad Masum as president following a parliamentary election.

Al Jazeera speaks to Jalal Talabani

Source: AFP news agency

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