Medical teams in Iraq to help treat Talabani

Associated Press
FILE - In this Aug 17, 2007 file photo, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani talks to reporters in Baghdad, Iraq. The office of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Tuesday he has been admitted to the hospital for treatment of an unspecified health problem.. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
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BAGHDAD (AP) — Foreign medical experts rushed to Baghdad on Wednesday to assist Iraqi doctors treating ailing President Jalal Talabani, who is said to be in a coma but improving after suffering 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.

Questions remain about the graveness of Talabani's illness. Hospital officials and his office have released few details to the public.

One government official and a medic with knowledge of the situation said he is in a coma. Another official said the president is suffering from a partially comatose state, suggesting he may be responding to some stimuli. All insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the president's condition with reporters.

Deputy Health Minister Issam Namiq said medical teams from Iran and Germany arrived to assist with the treatment, and 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.

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

Doctors are considering whether to send Talabani abroad for treatment, but no decision has been made, Namiq said. Neighboring Turkey has offered to send an air ambulance to transport him for care elsewhere.

Talabani is overweight and has undergone several medical procedures in recent years, including heart surgery in 2008 and knee replacement surgery this year.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad expressed hopes for a speedy recovery. Word of Talabani's illness trickled out on Tuesday, which also marked the anniversary of the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Iraq.

Talabani's official powers are limited, but he is seen as a rare unifying figure 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. The Kurds would likely insist on retaining the presidency to maintain the government's power-sharing balance.

Before he fell ill, Talabani was actively involved in trying to mediate in a 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 region, prompting fears that fighting could break out.

Last week Talabani brokered a deal that calls on both sides to eventually withdraw troops from the contested areas, though there was 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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