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Iraqi finance minister: Staff members have been kidnapped
President Talabani being treated in Berlin after stroke
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s finance minister on Thursday accused a “militia force” of kidnapping members of his staff, saying he holds the prime minister personally responsible for their safety.
Finance Minister Rafia al-Issawi leveled the accusations just hours after Iraq’s ailing president was flown to Germany for medical treatment following a stroke. The 79-year-old president, Jalal Talabani, is widely seen as a unifying figure who is able to rise above Iraq’s often bitter politics and mediate among the country’s ethnic and sectarian groups.
Mr. al-Issawi made the accusations in a late-night press conference. The move is certain to inflame Iraq’s ongoing political tensions, which have been heightened since an arrest warrant was issued against one of Mr. al-Issawi’s political allies a year ago.
A year ago, bodyguards assigned to another senior member of Iraqiya, Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, were detained. Shortly afterward, an arrest warrant was issued against Mr. al-Hashemi himself, accusing him of orchestrating death squads — a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.
Mr. al-Hashemi initially stayed at a guest house belonging to Mr. Talabani but later fled the country and is now living in neighboring Turkey. Iraqi courts have since found him guilty in absentia and handed down multiple death sentences against him.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press that doctors have determined the president had a “very serious stroke” but that he is showing signs of improvement.
“He is starting to regain his senses. He is able to feel pain, and this is a sign of progress,” Mr. Zebari said.
Mr. Talabani’s spokesman, Nasser al-Ani, said the president is able to move some of his limbs and communicate with simple signals but is unable to speak.
Iraq’s parliament has the authority to choose a new president should Mr. Talabani’s office become vacant. The Kurds likely would insist on retaining the presidency to maintain the government’s power-sharing balance.
Berlin’s Charite hospital, the German capital’s largest, confirmed Thursday that Mr. Talabani had been admitted to its Virchow Clinic but wouldn’t give any details on his condition or what he was being treated for, citing patient confidentiality.
By John R. Bolton
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