Iraq's Stricken President To Be Flown To Germany for Treatment

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BAGHDAD -- Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, will be flown to Germany for medical treatment from a stroke suffered this week, officials said on Wednesday. The president, 79, was said to be in "stable" condition and the decision was announced after medical specialists from abroad were dispatched to the hospital to assess the possibility of sending him out of the country for further treatment.

Mr. Talabani, whose influence in mediating disputes among the country's many political factions has far outweighed the limited powers of the office he occupies, was said to be in grave but stable health on Tuesday, a day after he had the stroke and was rushed to the hospital.

In a brief update on Wednesday, the Iraqi medical staff at the Baghdad Medical City said that "his health is stable" and that doctors were using the same medical procedures on him that they had used when he was admitted to the facility, where newly arrived medical experts from Iran, Germany and Britain had begun to monitor his condition, the Iraqi staff said.

The head of the president's media office, Barazan Sheikh Othman, said the medical teams "have seen that his health is better" and that he can travel to Germany on Thursday to continue treatment.

One of the country's two vice presidents, Khudayr al-Khuzai, a Shiite, will take on Mr. Talabani's duties in his absence. Mr. Talabani's illness, announced in a statement from his office on Tuesday, cast a shadow over the Kurdish lands in the north where he once fought a guerrilla war and where he now lives. It added a new element of uncertainty to the country's divided politics a year after the departure of the American military, following eight years of war, leaving Iraq's leaders to steer the country's shaky democracy on their own.

Mr. Talabani has been treated abroad for medical conditions in recent years. At a brief news conference on Tuesday at the same hospital, a doctor had also described Mr. Talabani's condition as "stable" and said he expected it to improve. On Twitter, Mr. Talabani's son, Qubad Talabani, who represents the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington, wrote that his father "is currently stable" and "we hope can begin his recovery soon."

But privately other officials have suggested his condition was more serious. A hospital official, as well as a high-level government official -- both of whom requested anonymity out of respect for Mr. Talabani's family -- said on Tuesday the president was in a coma.

The Iraqi medical staff in their comments on Wednesday did not take questions.

The health issues confronting Mr. Talabani comes at a time of heightened political tensions between Iraq's central government and the semiautonomous Kurdish region. A dispute over land and oil that has festered for years has turned more serious in recent weeks as government forces have sought to take more control of security in disputed territories near Kirkuk, a northern city claimed by both the Kurds and the central government.

Mr. Talabani exerts sway over Iraq's national affairs beyond the limited powers of his office, which is largely ceremonial. He is seen as a unifying figure with the power, at times, to bring Iraq's many factions to the bargaining table, among the few national leaders, and perhaps the only one, with that status. His absence from politics would have a profound influence in Baghdad, where Mr. Talabani has been trying to mediate a continuing political crisis that at its core is a contest for power among the country's three main groups: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

On Monday, Mr. Talabani met with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss Iraq's political problems. Afterward, a statement from Mr. Talabani's office said, the two men stressed the need for calm and transparent dialogue, as well as "working according to the spirit of the Constitution and the national agreements" as the way to solve the country's ills.

Mr. Maliki has visited Mr. Talabani in the hospital, according to officials.

Duraid Adnan reported from Baghdad, and Christine Hauser from New York.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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