Baghdad: President Jalal Talabani, a former Kurdish rebel who became a major player in Iraq’s politics and worked to reconcile its feuding leaders, was in hospital on Tuesday after what state television said was a stroke.
“Due to fatigue and tiredness, (Talabani) had a health emergency and was transported… to the hospital in Baghdad” on Monday night, a statement posted on the president’s official website said.
A later statement said that “bodily functions are normal and the health condition of his excellency the president is stable.” It said the emergency was due to hardening of his arteries.
State television reported that Talabani had suffered a stroke.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told AFP that Talabani was in intensive care, but was in stable condition.
Talabani has struggled with a series of health problems in recent years.
He underwent successful heart surgery in the United States in August 2008. The previous year, he was evacuated to neighbouring Jordan for treatment for dehydration and exhaustion.
Talabani has also travelled to the United States and to Europe for treatment for a variety of ailments.
Over the past year, he has repeatedly sought to convene a national conference aimed at bridging sharp political differences in the country, and has worked to reduce tensions among Iraqi leaders.
And since becoming president in 2005, he has won praise for attempting to bridge divisions between Sunni and Shiite, and Arab and Kurdish factions.
A married father of two, he has dominated Iraqi Kurdish political life for more than four decades, along with his long-time rival, Kurdistan regional president Massud Barzani, and his family.
In his native Sulaimaniyah province, Talabani is known simply as Mam (Uncle) Jalal, although his once-ubiquitous political support has dropped off considerably as his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has been accused of corruption and stagnation.
Born in 1933 in the village of Kalkan in the mountains, as a young man he was quickly seduced by the Kurdish struggle for a homeland to unite a people scattered across Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
After studying law at Baghdad University and a stint in the army, Talabani joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of Massud, and took to the hills in a first uprising against the Iraqi government in 1961.
But he famously fell out with Barzani, who sued for peace with Baghdad — the start of a long and costly internecine feud among Iraqi Kurds.
Talabani joined a KDP splinter faction in 1964, and 11 years later established the PUK.
The two Kurdish rebel factions were key allies of the US-led coalition in its 2003 invasion and overthrow of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.