Last updated: 20 December, 2012

Iraqi president stable after health emergency

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a key figure who has long sought to bridge bitter divides in his war-scarred country, arrived in Germany Thursday for treatment after he suffered a stroke.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Talabani, 79, was in the country for medical care.

“I can confirm that Iraqi president Talabani is in Germany for medical treatment,” Westerwelle said in a brief statement. “I sincerely wish him a quick and full recovery.”

A spokeswoman for Berlin’s Charite, one of Europe’s largest university hospitals, told AFP that he was receiving treatment there but declined to provide further details.

Talabani, who has had a series of health problems in recent years, was hospitalised late Monday after what state television reported was a stroke, and doctors have since said that his condition has improved.

The president’s office said earlier that he had left Medical City hospital in Baghdad for Germany “under the care of a specialised medical team”, adding that the treatment he received in Iraq had “provided the appropriate circumstances for the transfer of his excellency outside the country to continue his treatment in Germany”.

Germany, Europe’s top economy, has a number of world-class medical institutions and foreign dignitaries frequently seek out clinics in the country for care.

Talabani’s health has major political implications in Iraq, where he has sought to bring together various feuding politicians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Arabs and Kurds.

“Jalal Talabani is a crucial joining-link between Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad,” International Crisis Group analyst Maria Fantappie said of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which is at odds with Baghdad over a number of issues.

“President Talabani has been crucial in mediating between the two sides and ensuring the continuation of dialogue between Kurds and the central government,” said Fantappie.

John Drake, an analyst with AKE Group, said: “While on paper his role is somewhat limited, his influence and mediation skills have gone a long way in smoothing over the country’s troubled political scene.

“Some may describe his position as ‘ceremonial’ but he has made it a lot more active, simply through dialogue and discussion, which play a strong role in Iraqi politics,” said Drake.

Crispin Hawes of research and consulting group Eurasia said Talabani’s absence could have an impact on that dialogue.

“The deteriorating health of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is creating potential political problems, but Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will see the situation as an opportunity to exert leverage on senior Kurdish and Sunni Arab politicians,” he said.

Under Iraq’s constitution, the vice president takes over if the post of president becomes vacant for any reason, and a new president must be elected by parliament within 30 days.

Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie would likely take charge temporarily if Talabani dies or leaves office.

Iraq’s other vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive who has been given multiple death sentences for charges including murder.

Talabani, who was born in November 1933, underwent successful heart surgery in the United States in August 2008. The previous year, he was evacuated to neighbouring Jordan for treatment for dehydration and exhaustion.

He has also travelled to clinics in Europe in the past for treatment for a variety of ailments.

Talabani has been a key figure for decades, first as a Kurdish rebel and political leader, and as president since 2005, two years after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

During the past year, he has repeatedly sought to convene a national conference aimed at reconciling feuding Iraqi leaders.