(TEHRAN, Iran) — Described in grave but stable condition, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will receive treatment in Germany for a stroke he suffered earlier this week.
The 79-year-old, who is from Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, was believed well enough to make the trip. Talabani has previously received treatment abroad for other medical conditions, although some believe that his stroke may be more debilitating than the government is letting on.
Khudayr al-Khuzai, a Shiite who is one of Iraq’s two vice presidents, will assume Talabani’s responsibilities in his absence.
Although the role of president in Iraq is largely ceremonial, given that most of the power is concentrated in Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki’s office, Talabani is nonetheless considered an influential figure because of his keen negotiating skills to smooth out differences between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
His affliction comes at a particularly perilous time in Iraq’s still-fledgling democracy — a year removed from the complete U.S. military withdrawal from the country. Among other problems, the Shiite-dominated central government is in a dispute with Kurds about land and oil that both sides are laying claim to.
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