Middle East

Iraqi President Talabani to be treated in Germany

An Iraqi soldier stands guard next to billboard of Jalal Talabani in Baghdad
Image caption Jalal Talabani has been a key figure in preserving Iraq's fragile national unity

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will be flown to Germany for further treatment, officials say, after he reportedly suffered a stroke.

Medical experts from Germany have been assessing Mr Talabani, whose condition is said to be stable and improving.

The president's spokesman, Barazan Sheikh Othman, said Mr Talabani would leave Iraq on Thursday or Friday.

A veteran of the Kurdish guerrilla movement, Mr Talabani, 79, is Iraq's first president from the ethnic group.

He has struggled with his health in recent years and often been treated abroad. He underwent heart surgery in the US in 2008.

Mr Talabani was apparently rushed to the Baghdad Medical City on Monday evening, although no announcement was made until Tuesday morning when officials said he had suffered a "health emergency".

A statement from the president's office said his bodily functions were "normal" and that his condition was "stable". The emergency was caused by hardening of the arteries, it added.

But officials conceded in private that his condition was more serious and state television reported that Mr Talabani had suffered a stroke.

Teams from Iran and Germany flew in to assist in Mr Talabani's treatment and by Wednesday his condition had apparently improved sufficiently to allow him to fly abroad.

His spokesman, Barazan Sheikh Othman, said: "The president's medical situation has improved and he has passed the dangerous stage."

Deputy Health Minister Issam Namiq said Mr Talabani's condition was "stable" and that there had been "an improvement".

Unifying figure

Mr Talabani's illness comes at a time of heightened political tensions between Iraq's Arab-led central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north.

In recent weeks, he has been mediating in the dispute triggered by the government's attempt to take greater control of security in oil-rich territory around the city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Arabs and Kurds. Kurdish forces have been deployed in the region since 2003.

A deal brokered by Mr Talabani called on both sides to eventually withdraw troops from the contested areas, though no deadline was set.

Image caption Jalal Talabani is being treated at Baghdad Medical City

The president, whose powers are limited, is seen as a unifying figure who has helped prevent the disintegration of Iraq's fragile national unity government, which includes Shia and Sunni Arabs as well as Kurds.

On Monday, Mr Talabani met Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to discuss the political problems. Afterwards, the president's office said they had both stressed the need for calm and transparent dialogue, as well as "working according to the spirit of the constitution and the national agreements".

Mr Maliki has visited the president in hospital since his admission.

According to Iraq's constitution, one of the two vice-presidents assumes the presidency temporarily if it becomes vacant. A new president would then be elected by parliament within 30 days.