Former Iraqi president and Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has died in a Berlin hospital at age 83, according to Kurdish officials.
Talabani formerly led one of the largest Kurdish factions in Iraq before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein. He then took over as Iraq’s president from 2005 to 2014, before stepping down to deal with complications from a stroke he suffered in 2012.
Iraqi Kurds in Irbil honored Talabani by flying the flag on the citadel in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital at half-mast.
Iraqi Kurdish lawmaker Zana Said described 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,” he said.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel issued a statement thanking Talabani for his “great service to his country at a difficult time.”
As a politician, Talabani spent his career attempting to bridge divides between feuding factions in Iraq, as well as pushing for Kurdish independence.
He was Iraq’s first non-Arab president. He was seen as a unifying figure within Iraq.
Talabani's death comes days after the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government held an independence referendum over Iraqi government objections.
State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. was “deeply saddened” by the death of Talabani.