Iraqi President Talabani suffers a stroke
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has been hospitalized in Baghdad after suffering a stroke and is in stable condition, a spokesman for the prime minister said Tuesday.
The development injected new uncertainty into the country's political future, a year after the U.S. military left. 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.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has visited the hospital where Talabani is being treated, his spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Iraqi state TV also reported that the president has had a stroke.
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.
Saadi Peira, a senior official in Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan political party, said doctors expect they will need two to three days to determine whether Talabani should continue to receive medical care inside the country or he whether he should be taken to a hospital abroad.
Talabani's office earlier said the Iraqi president had been taken to the hospital after showing signs of fatigue Monday evening, and that he was being treated for an unspecified health problem. It later said tests have shown he is suffering from a hardening of his arteries, though it described his condition as stable.
Talabani's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.
An Iraqi Cabinet official said Talabani fainted on Monday and remains unconscious. The official agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release details about the president's health.
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, a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority, 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 earlier 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.