Iraqi president's stroke fuels fears of crisis

Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:25am EST
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By Patrick Markey

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is to be transferred to Germany for treatment for a stroke that may end his moderating influence in a dispute edging Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region closer to a confrontation over oil.

The portly 79-year-old former guerrilla, who has often mediated among Iraqi Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds and between the Arab-led central government and the self-ruled Kurdish enclave, was admitted to hospital on Monday night.

Talabani survived wars, exile and infighting in northern Iraq to become the country's first Kurdish president a few years after the U.S-led 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Talabani was in a stable condition and would most likely be transferred to Germany within 24 hours, Najmaldin Karim, the governor of the city of Kirkuk who is also part of the president's medical team, told Reuters on Wednesday.

A team of doctors from Germany who had treated Talabani for past illnesses had recommended he be moved there after evaluating him in a Baghdad hospital, Karim said.

It was unclear when or if the Kurdish statesman would be able to return to his post and his potential exit from politics could not have come at a worse time for the OPEC oil producer.

A year after the last American troops left, the Arab-led central government and the Kurdish region are caught in a rift over oil and land that threatens to escalate into fighting.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Kurdistan have twice sent troops to face off along the internal border where both lay claim to ethnically mixed territories dotted with oilfields.   Continued...

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani addresses the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 23, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar