Ailing Iraq president heads to Germany for treatment
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a key figure who sought to bridge political and sectarian divides, left for Germany for treatment on Thursday after suffering a reported stroke, his office said.
Talabani departed "the Medical City hospital in Baghdad, heading to the Federal Republic of Germany, under the care of a specialised medical team," the presidency said on its website.
Talabani was hospitalised late on Monday after what state television reported was a stroke, but doctors have said his condition has improved.
His 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 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," Fantappie said.
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 though dialogue and discussion, which play a strong role in Iraqi politics," said Drake.
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 apparently take charge temporarily if Talabani dies, both by virtue of being the senior of Iraq's two vice presidents, and because the other, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive who has been given multiple death sentences for charges including murder.
Talabani has had a series of health problems in recent years.
He 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 the United States and to Europe for treatment for a variety of ailments.
Talabani has been a key figure in Iraqi politics for decades, first as a Kurdish rebel and political leader, and as president since 2005.
Since becoming president, he has won praise for attempting to bridge divisions between Sunni and Shiite, and Arab and Kurdish factions.
During the past year, he has repeatedly sought to convene a national conference aimed at reconciling feuding Iraqi leaders.
© 2012 AFP