BAGHDAD: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was being treated in a Baghdad hospital under intensive care Tuesday after suffering a stroke, injecting new uncertainty into the country’s political future a year after the US military left.
Iraqi state TV and several officials, including the prime minister’s spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Mutlaq, confirmed the nature of Talabani’s illness. The seriousness of the stroke is unclear.
Although his political powers are limited, Talabani, 79, is respected by many Iraqis as a rare unifying figure able to rise above the ethnic and sectarian rifts that still divide the country. Known for his joking manner and walrus-like moustache, Talabani has been actively involved in trying to mediate an ongoing crisis between Iraq’s central government and the country’s Kurdish minority, from which he hails.
In comments to The Associated Press, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari denied local media reports that Talabani had died. He and the president’s office described Talabani’s condition as stable.
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has visited the hospital to check on Talabani’s condition, said his spokesman, Ali Al-Moussawi.
Rifle-toting soldiers assigned to the presidential guard were deployed around Medical City, Baghdad’s largest medical complex, where Talabani is being treated. A number of senior government officials and lawmakers were seen rushing to the hospital to check on his condition, though their bodyguards were not being allowed inside.
Talabani’s office said the president had been taken to the hospital on Monday evening after showing signs of fatigue, though it did not release the news until Tuesday morning.
It initially said he was being treated for an unspecified health problem. A later statement cited tests showing he is suffering from an unnamed condition caused by a hardening of his arteries.
Medical teams from Germany and Britain are expected to arrive and will decide whether the president’s condition is serious enough for him to be sent abroad for treatment, Al-Mutlaq said.
Talabani’s spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Word of Talabani’s illness trickled out exactly a year after the last US troops rolled out of Iraq. Their departure on Dec. 18, 2011, ended a nearly nine-year war that left more than 100,000 Iraqis and nearly 4,500 Americans dead.
Talabani is overweight but little else is known publicly about his health. Over the summer, he underwent knee-replacement surgery in Germany.
The Iraqi presidency is seen as a largely ceremonial post, though it does retain some powers under Iraq’s constitution. The president must sign off on laws approved by parliament and has the power to block executions.
Talabani has frequently used the post to mediate disputes within the government and among Iraq’s various sects and ethnic groups.
He has recently been working to resolve a standoff between the central government and the Kurds, who have their own fighting force.
The two sides last month moved additional troops into disputed areas along the Kurds’ self-rule northern region, prompting fears that fighting could break out.
Talabani last week brokered a deal that calls on both sides to eventually withdraw troops from the contested areas, though there is no timetable for how soon the drawdown might take place.
Talabani met with Al-Maliki before falling ill Monday. They agreed that Al-Maliki would invite a delegation from the Kurdish regional government to Baghdad to continue the talks, according to the prime minister’s office.