Middle East

Iraq's Jalal Talabani arrives in Germany for treatment

President Jalal Talabani in 2007
Image caption President Talabani has struggled with his health in recent years

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has arrived in Germany for further treatment after a reported stroke, Berlin says.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wished the 79-year-old Mr Talabani "a quick and full recovery", without providing any further details.

German doctors earlier said Mr Talabani's condition had improved sufficiently to permit travel.

He has struggled with his health and has often been treated abroad.

Mr Talabani was reportedly rushed to the Baghdad Medical City on Monday evening.

Iraqi officials conceded in private that his condition was serious and state television reported that he had suffered a stroke.

"He is starting to regain his senses. He is able to feel pain, and this is a sign of progress," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Associated Press.

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

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 withdraw troops from the contested areas, though no deadline was set.

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.

If it should come to a situation where a replacement would have to be found, that will be very hard indeed, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

Because of the power-sharing deal underlying the current Iraqi political setup, the presidency is in the hands of the Kurds - and for Kurdish political reasons, it would have to go to someone from Mr Talabani's party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), our correspondent explains.

Because the PUK is so centred around him, there is nobody approaching his stature who would be acceptable both to Baghdad and to his Kurdish constituency as a replacement, he adds.

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