BAGHDAD — Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has suffered a stroke and was in intensive care at a Baghdad hospital Tuesday, injecting new uncertainty into the country’s political future a year after the U.S. military left.
Although his official powers are limited, Talabani, 79, is respected by many Iraqis as a rare unifying figure seen as 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 ethnic Kurdish minority, from which he hails.
Iraqi state TV and several officials, including the prime minister’s spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, confirmed to The Associated Press that Talabani had a stroke. The severity remains unclear.
Talabani’s spokesman, Nasser al-Ani, told reporters that the president is in stable condition, though he did not say what he was suffering from. Medical officials who appeared with him were just as circumspect. They did not take questions.
“The president’s health is being closely followed up by our medical team. The vital organs are working and we hope that there will be no deterioration,” said Dr. Ayad Abbas from the intensive care unit where Talabani is being treated. “We hope that we will see improvement in the coming hours.”
The presidential office initially said Tuesday that Talabani was hospitalized the previous evening after showing signs of fatigue. A later statement cited tests showing he is suffering from a condition caused by a hardening of his arteries. It did not identify the condition.
Some local media reports suggested that Talabani had died, but Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that was not the case.
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 mostly not being allowed inside.