A unifying figure to his fractious country, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's absence after suffering a stroke comes at a sensitive time. Succession would be complicated, a year after the last American troops left the country.
BAGHDAD — Iraq's President Jalal Talabani's condition rose to "stable," up from "critical but stable," after suffering a stroke Tuesday.
Talabani is being treated at a Baghdad Hospital for hardened arteries, according to a statement from his office Tuesday.
"Tests show that his bodily functions are normal and his excellency's condition is stable," the statement said. "He is under intensive medical supervision."
The Iraqi president, a Kurd who has mediated among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties, was rushed to the hospital Tuesday after fainting and not regaining consciousness, government officials and lawmakers said.
Without Talabani, Iraq would lose an influential peace-maker who often eased tensions in the fragile power-sharing government and negotiated in the growing rift over oil between Baghdad and the OPEC member country's autonomous Kurdistan region.
Reports on his medical condition varied. Though three government sources said he was in critical condition, his office said the 79-year-old president was stable under intensive medical supervision after receiving treatment for blocked arteries.
"President Talabani has suffered a light stroke. His condition is stable now and doctors are closely monitoring him, and if they decide he should be transferred outside then he'll go," said veteran Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman, a close Talabani associate who was in the Baghdad hospital.
Talabani had been suffering from ill health much of this year and received medical treatment overseas several times in the last two years.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited the hospital earlier Tuesday.
TOUGH TIMES AHEAD?
Under Iraq's constitution, the parliament should elect a new president if the post becomes vacant, and Iraq's power-sharing deal calls for the presidency to go to a Kurd while two vice presidents are shared by a Sunni Muslim and a Shiite Muslim.
Political analysts said former Kurdistan Prime Minister Barham Salih is the favored candidate to replace Talabani should the president be incapacitated.
But his exit from Iraqi politics would come at a sensitive time and any succession would be complicated, a year after the last American troops left the country.
"He is the most moderate among Iraqi politicians and the most able to defuse political shocks. I do not think anyone will be able to fill his position as a president and as a politician," Iraqi analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie said.
Iraq law would see one of the vice presidents take over Talabani's duties before the parliamentary vote. But Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, is a fugitive outside of the country after he fled to escape charges he ran death squads. He was sentenced to death in absentia.
Any parliament vote would also be complex, with Maliki locked in a struggle with Sunni, Kurdish and some Shiite rivals in the power-sharing government. Talabani was crucial in helping the Shiite leader survive a no-confidence motion directed against him earlier this year.
Talabani also recently helped ease a military stand-off between Maliki's central government and the autonomous Kurdistan president, Masoud Barzani, in their long-running dispute over oil-field rights and internal boundaries.
But that situation remains sensitive after both regions sent troops to reinforce positions along their internal frontier.
A veteran of the Kurdish guerrilla movement, Talabani survived wars, exile and infighting in northern Iraq to become the country's first Kurdish president a few years after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
(Additional reporting by Raheem Salman, Aseel Kami and Isabel Coles, writing by Patrick Markey)
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