Iraqi President Talabani's health improving after stroke

BAGHDAD Wed Dec 19, 2012 3:26am EST

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's health condition was improving on Wednesday and he responded well to treatment in a Baghdad hospital two days after suffering a stroke, his medical team coordinator said.

His sudden illness prompted questions about Talabani's exit from politics where he has been a key mediator among Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurds and helped ease tensions in the growing dispute over oil between Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan.

The elderly Kurdish statesman was admitted to hospital on Monday night after suffering a form of stroke and was in intensive care with a team of specialists including some doctors from Germany, where he received treatment in the past.

"He has been responsive. He is showing clear signs of improvement," Najmaldin Karim, the governor of Iraq's Kirkuk city who is also a doctor, told Reuters.

A 79-year-old former guerrilla who spent years fighting for Kurdish rights, 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.

He has since been pivotal in navigating through the political turmoil that often erupts in Iraq's fragile power-sharing government, split among Shi'ite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds.

Under Iraq's constitution, parliament should elect a new president if his post becomes vacant. Iraq's power-sharing deal calls for the presidency to go to a Kurd while two vice president posts are shared by a Sunni and a Shi'ite.

(Reporting by Patrick Markey)

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