Foreign doctors in Iraq to help treat president after stroke; condition said to be improving

  • Article by: ADAM SCHRECK , Associated Press
  • Updated: December 19, 2012 - 5:24 AM
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Iraqi President Jalal Talabani speaks during a press conference after a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul (not in picture) on March 7, 2008 in Ankara. Talabani flew to Ankara today for a landmark two-day visit aimed at mending fences in the wake of a Turkish military offensive against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN

Photo: Adem Altan, AFP/Getty Images

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BAGHDAD - Foreign medical experts rushed to Baghdad on Wednesday to assist Iraqi doctors treating ailing President Jalal Talabani, whose condition is said to be improving after he suffered a stroke.

Talabani, a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority, was taken to the hospital late Monday and doctors worked to stabilize him into the following day. His illness raises new concerns about Iraq's stability, which is being tested anew by a recent spike in tensions between the central government and the Kurds.

Talabani's doctors have not formally said that the 79-year-old statesman suffered a stroke, though several other government officials have confirmed that is the case.

Deputy Health Minister Issam Namiq said medical teams from Iran and Germany had arrived to assist with the treatment, and that additional experts from Britain are on their way.

He told reporters the president is getting better, though he offered no details about the severity of the illness.

"His condition is stable. And I underline here that there is an improvement in his condition compared with yesterday," he said.

Neighboring Turkey has offered to send an air ambulance to fly the president to a hospital abroad.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman also described Talabani's condition as improving, saying in a phone interview that he is "in a better situation than yesterday."

Doctors are considering whether to send Talabani abroad for treatment, but no decision has been made, Namiq said.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad expressed hopes for a speedy recovery. Word of Talabani's illness had trickled out on Tuesday, which marked the one-year anniversary of the end of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Talabani's official powers are limited, but he is seen as a rare unifying figure seen as able to rise above the ethnic and sectarian rifts that still divide the country.

Iraq's parliament has the authority to choose a new president should Talabani's office become vacant.

Before he fell ill, he was actively involved in trying to mediate an ongoing crisis between Baghdad and the Kurds, who have their own fighters and considerable autonomy in their enclave in northern Iraq.

The two sides last month moved additional troops into disputed areas along the Kurds' self-rule northern region, prompting fears that fighting could break out.

Talabani last week brokered a deal that calls on both sides to eventually withdraw troops from the contested areas, though there is no timetable for how soon the drawdown might take place.

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Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

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Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/adamschreck

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