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Thread: Maliki's Hospital Visit

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    Maliki's Hospital Visit

    Enigma Wrapped in Rumor: Maliki’s Hospital Visit
    Published: March 15, 2010

    BAGHDAD — Flanked by his national security team, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki went on television Sunday night and praised Iraq’s security forces for their work during the recent parliamentary elections.
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    Hadi Mizban/Associated Press

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, at a dinner reception in Baghdad a day after the March 7 parliamentary elections.

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    The appearance also had the effect of proving he was alive.

    For days the political grapevine here was rife with rumors that Mr. Maliki, who is fighting for his political life as early returns suggest he may win a plurality of votes but far less than a mandate that would assure an encore as prime minister, had been the victim of an assassination attempt.

    “I do not believe that the killing and the bombs can bend the people from their path,” Mr. Maliki said Sunday evening, very much alive, referring to Iraq’s recurrent violence. He did not mention the assassination rumors on television.

    In a political culture riven with deep fear and resentment, where the slightest whiff of rumor can metastasize into widespread belief, the vacuum created by the delay in counting the ballots from the March 7 vote has proven fertile ground for conspiracy theories, the most attention-grabbing one being that Mr. Maliki had been shot.

    What is known is that Mr. Maliki was hospitalized Wednesday at a Baghdad hospital and apparently underwent a surgical procedure.

    But for what? The mystery deepens.

    One aide to Mr. Maliki, Ali al-Mosawi, said in an interview that the prime minister had a cyst on his stomach removed. But Hassan al-Sunaid, a leading figure of the Dawa Party, which is part of Mr. Maliki’s State of Law coalition, told the newspaper Al Mashriq that it was actually a cyst on his hand.

    In Sunday’s edition of the Baghdad edition of Asharq al-Awsat, a Saudi-financed daily, a story was emblazoned with the headline, “The reports of the prime minister’s assassination are false.” In it, another politician close to Mr. Maliki was quoted as saying the surgery was to “destroy a stone in one of his kidneys.”

    But the article hedged, quoting an anonymous “high-ranking Iraqi official” saying he would “not dismiss that Maliki survived an assassination attempt.”

    Spicing the intrigue was the location of the surgery. Mr. Maliki was treated at Medical City, a compound of hospitals in central Baghdad, and not a fancy facility in the city’s Green Zone where one might expect the prime minister to check in to for a scheduled medical procedure. The conspiratorial interpretation here was that Mr. Maliki was taken to the nearest hospital after being shot.

    The only official word from the prime minister’s office was a two-paragraph news release issued Thursday. “His Excellency Mr. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki went through a surgical operation, under the supervision of a specialized Iraqi medical team at the hospital of the medical city,” it said.

    The statement did not provide specifics.

    The Web, too, played its part in the spread of the assassination rumor. Numerous Iraqi blogs had reports that the prime minister had been shot. One,, reported that “a source close to Maliki said he was subjected to an assassination attempt and was shot in the leg.”

    The rumor ricocheted around Iraq’s political establishment, a captive audience for any information, true or false, as it waited for conclusive results about the March 7 election results.

    Last Thursday, in the conference hall of Ahmad Chalabi, the veteran politician and a candidate for the predominantly Shiite coalition, one of Mr. Chalabi’s advisers received an urgent call from an allied tribal leader from Anbar Province. “The prime minister has been shot!” the tribal leader, Hamid al-Hayes, shouted into the phone. “He was shot!”

    The adviser smiled and shook his head, accustomed, like most, to rumors spoken with utter authority.

    The slow trickle of election results, and the information vacuum it has created, has raised other conspiracy fears.

    In Kirkuk, for example, the city that is divided between Arabs and Kurds, a coalition headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, is doing much better than expected, according to preliminary results, fanning the fears of the Kurds.

    Allegations of election fraud have been levied publicly by some candidates, which some Western diplomats who have observed the election have termed a cynical ploy to distract attention from a poor electoral showing.

    Meanwhile, on the streets here, citizens worry that the longer the delay in determining who won the elections, the greater chance of fraud and, ultimately, renewed violence.

    “Every day we hear on television reports of fraud and negative things taking place,” said Souad Hussein, 45, a teacher in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad. “Regardless of whether they are true or false, the delay raises doubts.”

    Reporting was contributed by Anthony Shadid and Duraid Adnan from Baghdad; Sam Dagher from Kirkuk; and an employee of The New York Times from Diyala Province.

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