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Iraq's President Talabani leaves for treatment in Germany after stroke

Iraqi Presidential Office / EPA

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (left), seen with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Dec. 17, has often mediated between Iraq's various factions.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has left a Baghdad hospital and is being transferred to Germany for treatment after suffering a stroke earlier this week, his office said Thursday.

The 79-year-old Kurdish statesman was admitted to hospital on Monday night.

He has often mediated among Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and in a growing dispute over oil between Baghdad and the country's autonomous Kurdistan region.

"Treatment has allowed suitable conditions for his excellency to be transferred outside the country," the statement said, adding that Talabani's health had improved.

It was uncertain whether he would be able to return to his post, and his potential exit from politics is raising concerns about what could be a messy succession battle.

A year after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, the Arab-led central government and the Kurdish region are increasingly divided over oil and land in a rift that threatens to escalate into open conflict.

Iraq President Talabani 'stable' after stroke

Just days before he was hospitalized, Talabani had negotiated between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Kurdistan authorities after both sent troops to face off along an internal border where they have laid rival claims to ethnically mixed territories.

A year after the last American troops left, the Arab-led central government and the Kurdish region are caught in a rift over oil and land that threatens to escalate into fighting.

One year after the U.S. military pullout, Iraq teeters between statehood and failure. NBC News' Jim Maceda reports.

Al-Maliki and Kurdistan's leaders have twice sent troops to the internal border where both lay claim to ethnically mixed territories dotted with oilfields.

Turkey is also embroiled in the dispute, angering Baghdad by talking about energy cooperation and oil pipelines that would give Kurdistan a route to export its own crude and effectively end its reliance on the central government's funds.

Blasts hit Iraq's Kirkuk, disputed territories

With oil majors such Exxon and Chevron now shifting their focus northward to sign deals with Kurdistan and away from Iraq's southern oilfields, leaders on both sides are warning of the risks of the dispute sliding into an ethnic war.

"If it erupts ... it will be a painful, shameful ethnic conflict," al-Maliki said warning of the risks following last month's military build-up around disputed towns.

At the heart of the dispute is the oil wealth under the swathe of land known as the "Disputed Territories" along the vague internal border that includes the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, known to some as the "Jerusalem of the Kurds.”

Baghdad has warned Exxon and other companies that deals struck with Kurdistan are illegal, a violation of what Iraqi officials see as a policy area that should be under central government control. The Kurds say the constitution's federalism guarantees their right to develop their region's oil resources.

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