Iraqi President Is Said to Be in a Coma
BAGHDAD — Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, whose influence in mediating disputes among the country’s many political factions has far outweighed the limited powers of the office he occupies, suffered a stroke and was in grave health on Tuesday in a Baghdad hospital.
Mr. Talabani’s illness cast a shadow over the Kurdish lands in the north where he once fought a guerrilla war and where he now lives, and added a new element of uncertainty to the country’s divided politics a year after the departure of the American military left Iraq’s leaders to steer the country’s shaky democracy on their own.
Officials and doctors said Mr. Talabani, 79, who has been treated abroad for medical conditions in recent years, was in stable condition, but privately other officials suggested his condition was more serious. A hospital official, as well as a high-level government official — both of whom requested anonymity out of respect for Mr. Talabani’s family — said the president was in a coma.
The deteriorating health of Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, comes at a time of heightened political tensions between Iraq’s central government and the semiautonomous Kurdish region. A dispute over land and oil that has festered for years has turned more serious in recent weeks as government forces have sought to take more control of security in disputed territories near Kirkuk, a northern city claimed by both the Kurds and the central government.
Mr. Talabani exerts sway over Iraq’s national affairs beyond the limited powers of his office, which is largely ceremonial. He is seen as a unifying figure with the power, at times, to bring Iraq’s many factions to the bargaining table, among the few national leaders, and perhaps the only one, with that status. His absence from politics would have a profound influence in Baghdad, where Mr. Talabani has been trying to mediate a continuing political crisis that at its core is a contest for power among the country’s three main groups: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
At a brief news conference on Tuesday at the hospital where the president was being treated, a doctor described Mr. Talabani’s condition as “stable” and said he expected it to improve. On Twitter, Mr. Talabani’s son, Qubad Talabani, who represents the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington, wrote that his father “is currently stable” and “we hope can begin his recovery soon.”
On Monday, Mr. Talabani met with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to discuss Iraq’s political problems. Afterward, a statement from Mr. Talabani’s office said, the two men stressed the need for calm and transparent dialogue, as well as “working according to the spirit of the Constitution and the national agreements” as the way to solve the country’s ills.
Mr. Maliki has visited Mr. Talabani in the hospital, according to officials.
Mr. Talabani was apparently rushed to the hospital on Monday evening, although no announcement was made until Tuesday morning.
He is being treated by specialists at a hospital known as the Baghdad Medical City. Officials said doctors were trying to determine whether Mr. Talabani could be flown abroad for care. If not, foreign medical specialists were expected to fly to Baghdad to join the team treating him.