Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the country’s first Kurdish head of state and a moderating force among the nation’s rival factions, isn’t in a coma and was flown today to Germany for treatment, the head of his office said.
The 79-year-old Talabani’s functions have been temporarily transfered to Vice President Khudair al-Khuzaie, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Daawa party, according to Naseer al-Ani. “He is not in a coma and his limbs are moving,” he said in a phone interview in Baghdad today, without giving further details. The New York Times and other media had earlier cited officials as saying the president was in a coma.
Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman confirmed by phone that Talabani was taken to Germany today from the Baghdad hospital where he was admitted on Dec. 17 after suffering a stroke. He was accompanied by German doctors who were summoned to Baghdad to treat him. Medics from Iran and the U.K. also arrived in Iraq to check on Talabani, state-sponsored Iraqiya TV said yesterday.
Talabani has been a stabilizing force in Iraq, although his position is largely ceremonial. He was chosen as president by parliament in 2005 after Iraq’s first democratic election in 50 years, which followed the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. He has worked to ease the conflict between the Shiite Muslim majority and the Sunni community that escalated into violence after the 2003 war, and the tensions between Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds mainly focused on disputed land and control of the nation’s oil wealth.
He began his political career in the 1950s and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in 1975. His Peshmerga militia battled Hussein’s army in the 1970s and 1980s, and following the 1991 Gulf War he led a Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi government.
Iraq holds the world’s fifth-biggest crude reserves, according to BP Plc statistics that include Canada’s oil sands.