Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is being treated in a Baghdad hospital under intensive care Tuesday after suffering a stroke, injecting new uncertainty into the country's political future a year after the U.S. military withdrawal.

Iraqi state television and several officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, confirmed the nature of Talabani's illness. The seriousness of the stroke is unclear.

Although his political powers are limited, Talabani, 79, is respected by many Iraqis as a rare unifying figure able to rise above the ethnic and sectarian rifts that still divide the country.

Known for his joking manner and walrus-like moustache, Talabani has been actively involved in trying to mediate a crisis between Iraq's central government and the country's Kurdish minority, from which he hails.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari denied local media reports that Talabani had died. He and the president's office described Talabani's condition as stable.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has visited the hospital where Talabani is being treated, al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, said on Tuesday.

Showed signs of fatigue

Rifle-toting soldiers assigned to the presidential guard were deployed around Medical City, Baghdad's largest medical complex, where Talabani is being treated. A number of senior government officials and lawmakers were seen rushing to the hospital to check on his condition, though their bodyguards were not allowed inside.

Talabani's office said the president had been taken to the hospital after showing signs of fatigue Monday evening, though it did not release the news until Tuesday morning.

It initially said he was being treated for an unspecified health problem. It later statement cited tests showing he is suffering from an unnamed condition caused by a hardening of his arteries.

Medical teams from Germany and Britain are expected to arrive and will decide whether the president's condition is serious enough for him to be sent abroad for treatment, al-Mutlaq said.

Talabani's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Talabani is overweight, but little else is known publicly about his health. Over the summer, he underwent knee-replacement surgery in Germany.

Mediator among ethnic groups

The Iraqi presidency is seen as a largely ceremonial post, though it does retain some powers under Iraq's constitution. The president must sign off on laws approved by parliament and has the power to block executions.

Talabani has recently been working to resolve a standoff between the central government and the Kurds, who have their own fighting force.


Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, seen here in 2007, has been working more recently to resolve a dispute between central government and autonomous Kurdish region. (Hadi Mizban/Associated Press, File)

The two sides last month moved additional troops into disputed areas along the Kurds' self-rule northern region, prompting fears that fighting could break out.

Talabani last week brokered a deal that calls on both sides to eventually withdraw troops from the contested areas, though there is no timetable for how soon the drawdown might take place.

Talabani met with al-Maliki earlier Monday. They agreed that al-Maliki would invite a delegation from the Kurdish regional government to Baghdad to continue the talks, according to the prime minister's office.