IRAQI LEADERSHIP GONE MISSING….Juan Cole notes today that of the six men who actually run Iraq, one of them is in Iran getting chemotherapy for his lung cancer; one is in hiding; and one, improbably, is in the U.S. seeking treatment for his obesity:

So of the central club, al-Hakim is now absent. And, Jalal Talabani is flying to the US to spend three weeks, allegedly in a bid to lose weight. I’m tempted to speculate that something is in the works such that someone thinks it desirable that Talabani be out of country, since the idea that Mam Jalal suddenly decided he needed to go to a fat farm in Minnesota strikes me as far-fetched. But I will control myself; speculation in the absence of information is not very useful.

….Here you have the president and the leader of the largest bloc out of country. Not to mention that another important figure, Muqtada al-Sadr is in hiding in the Kufa area of Iraq, apparently afraid that the US “surge” will include another attempt to assassinate him.

….Nothing is likely to get done in their absence. Even under the best of circumstances, getting Talabani, Barzani, al-Hakim, al-Maliki and al-Hashimi all on the same page is nearly a miracle. But for the next few weeks it won’t be possible at all.

This strikes me as a coincidence worth taking note of, especially since Maliki’s government has shown distinct signs of strain lately. Stay tuned.