President Jalal Talabani returned to his Kurdish hometown Wednesday from a Jordanian hospital 17 days after collapsing in northern Iraq.
Talabani, 73, flew directly to Sulaimaniyah, where thousands of Kurds, some in traditional dress, welcomed him home.
“You, heroic people of Kurdistan, I greet you warmly and I thank you for your kind feelings,” Talabani told supporters.
News of Talabani’s arrival brought thousands of people to the streets. Motorists honked horns, played loud music and plastered their cars with portraits of the president.
Many waved the flag of Iraq’s Kurdish region, while others carried pictures of the former guerrilla leader.
“I want to pledge anew that I will always be the Peshmerga (Kurdish militiaman) you have known me to be and to continue to struggle to achieve all your goals in a democratic, federal and united Iraq,” he told the cheering crowd.
In a brief address in Kurdish and Arabic, he thanked King Abdullah II of Jordan for what he said was the excellent care he received in Amman.
A banner hoisted outside the headquarters of Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, said: “Your return means new life to Kurdistan and a federal Iraq.”
Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, collapsed on Feb. 25 in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad. He was unconscious as he was rushed to a local hospital, but recovered enough to be flown to Jordan, where he was admitted to King Hussein Medical Center in Amman.
Doctors said he suffered from exhaustion and dehydration caused by lung and sinus infections.
Earlier this month, Talabani said his illness had perhaps been useful because it ensured that he received a full medical checkup.
“I came for a simple procedure but the brothers here carried out a complete checkup,” he told Jordan’s official Petra news agency. He is to return to work later this week, he said.
In apparent high spirits
Jordanian authorities kept reporters away from Amman airport, but a Petra reporter said Talabani smiled and joked as he said goodbye to Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit and other officials.
The Iraqi leader was accompanied on the journey home by his wife and Barham Saleh, a deputy prime minister. Talabani visited the monarch before heading to the airport.
Zainab Khalid was among those who gathered to welcome Talabani home.
“I was grieving and crying everyday that the president was in the hospital, but today my happiness can’t be described,” said 53-year-old Khalid, who lost two sons fighting Saddam Hussein’s army in the 1980s as members of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia.
Tarkot Karim, a 21-year-old student of English at the Sulaimaniyah College of Arts, said Talabani had united Iraqis after Saddam’s 2003 ouster.
“God forbid that anything bad happens to him,” Karim said. “It would have a negative impact on all the Iraqi people — Arabs and Kurds.”