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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 16:18 GMT
Profile: Massoud Barzani
Massoud Barzani:
Massoud Barzani: KDP leader (Picture by Hiwa Osman)
The political leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Massoud Barzani, has been a central figure in more that 20 years of see-sawing war and peace in Iraqi Kurdistan.

As leader of one of two main parties controlling Iraqi Kurdistan since 1991, he represents many of the traditional values of Kurdish society.

His party commands more than 20,000 fighters and can mobilise a much bigger force.

The KDP currently controls the northern and northwestern part of Iraqi Kurdistan along the border with Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The other main Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani, is predominant in the areas bordering Iran.

Early times

Massoud Barzani is seen as a cautious but pragmatic leader of his people. He is seen as taking a consensual approach to the leadership of his party.

Massoud Barzani
Massoud as a young man
He was born in 1946, in the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in Iran. The republic's army was led by his late father, Mustafa Barzani, a much-revered figure in the Kurdish national movement.

Following the collapse of the republic, Mustafa Barzani fled to the Soviet Union. Massoud returned to Iraq and lived with his grandfather in Mosul, where he completed his primary education.

Following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, Mustafa Barzani also returned to Iraq and the young Massoud moved to Baghdad.

He ended his schooling in 1961 when Mustafa Barzani declared an armed rebellion against the Iraqi Government, after promises to grant national rights to Kurds were not fulfilled.

Party leadership

A decade later, Massoud was a member of the Kurdish delegation at the 1970 talks with the Baath government in Baghdad. The talks led to the 11 March agreement, under which the central government agreed to grant autonomy to the Kurds in parts of Iraqi Kurdistan within four years.

Mustafa Barzani
Massoud's father, Mustafa
Later the same year, he became a member of the KDP leadership, and assumed overall control of the party on his father's death in 1979.

But the government in Baghdad remained a sworn enemy. Mr Barzani escaped an assassination attempt in Vienna in 1979 in which one of his aides was wounded.

New era

The 1991 Gulf war and the subsequent Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi Government heralded a new chapter in Mr Barzani's political life.

The Western alliance declared the Kurdish region a safe haven and the central government withdrew all its administration from the region. The two main Kurdish parties stepped in to fill the vacuum.

Massoud had to make the transition from being a leader responsible for a party waging a guerrilla war against Baghdad to becoming a statesman responsible for the civilian population in the areas of Iraqi Kurdistan outside Saddam Hussein's control.

Chronic rivalry

An important factor shaping Barzani's political life has been the persistent in-fighting with his counterpart Jalal Talabani.

There was a brief lull after 1987 when the KDP, PUK and six other parties formed the Iraqi Kurdistan Front.

But tension between the two began to increase again after the 1992 regional elections in Iraqi Kurdistan. Both men ran for the presidency of the Iraqi Kurdistan region but neither received the necessary majority.

Kurdish fighters
Fighting reached its peak in 1996

Rivalry between the two parties came to a head when the PUK drove out the KDP from the hitherto jointly-administered provincial capital, Irbil, in late 1994.

From his headquarters in Salah-al-Din, outside Irbil, Mr Barzani led a bitter war against the PUK forces in the period 1994-1998.

In 1996, Mr Barzani invited the Iraqi government troops to help him capture Irbil from the PUK, while Mr Talabani sought logistical help from Iran.

The result was the division of Iraqi Kurdistan into two regions, administered separately by the two parties.

Peace deal

After several meetings between the KDP and the PUK, sponsored by the US, both leaders signed a peace agreement in Washington in August 1998 in the presence of the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The accord was further cemented on 4 October 2002, when the joint Kurdish parliament reconvened and both leaders apologised to the families of the victims of their internal war.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.


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