BAGHDAD Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is recovering from heart surgery in the United States, his office announced on Thursday, nearly two weeks after he left Iraq for what was described at the time as a knee operation.
Talabani, 74, has not been seen in public since traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota on August 2. His office said the heart problem was discovered by doctors while preparing to perform the knee surgery.
"The medical team conducted a full check-up and discovered that Talabani was suffering from a narrowing of one of his heart's valves. The matter was dealt with by a surgical operation which was a complete success," it said in a statement.
The president left the hospital on Thursday and would return to Iraq after completing a recovery period, it said.
Reuters broke the news earlier on Thursday that the president had undergone a heart operation after several officials confirmed it under condition that they not be named.
Rumors that Talabani had undergone a more serious operation than officially described had swirled for days but his office had refused to confirm them, referring reporters to the Aug 2 statement about his knee.
Talabani's office offered no immediate explanation for why it had concealed the president's heart ailment. He has had other health problems in the past.
It said U.S. President George W. Bush had telephoned Talabani to congratulate him on successfully undergoing surgery.
Mustafa Sowrash, a senior official in Talabani's PUK party, told Reuters that Talabani would go to Washington after leaving the hospital in Minnesota.
"His return to Iraq is not far off."
A Kurd, Talabani has been president since 2005. Although he does not wield executive power in Iraq, his role is seen as critical in maintaining the country's delicate ethnic balance.
His two vice presidents are a Shi'ite and a Sunni Arab.
Talabani had a major impact on Iraqi politics last month when he vetoed a law needed to hold provincial elections. His fellow Kurds opposed the law because they feared it would have set back their goal of controlling the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
(Reporting by Wisam Mohammed and Peter Graff in Baghdad, Mariam Karouny in London, Sherko Raouf in Sulaimaniya and Maggie Fox in Washington; editing by Sami Aboudi)