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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Who's who in Iraq: Kurds
BBC News Online looks at Iraq's Kurdish minority and its political parties, as part of a guide to the key players in post-Saddam Iraq.

KURDISH MINORITY

Kurds celebrate the fall of Saddam Hussein
Kurds suffered under Saddam Hussein and celebrated his fall
Iraq's Kurdish minority, based mainly in the north of the country, has been pushing to maintain the level of autonomy it enjoyed during the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule.

After suffering persecution and ethnic cleansing under the former leader in the 1980s, the Kurds experienced something of a golden age in the 1990s, protected by a US and UK no-fly zone.

Ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK put aside long-standing rivalries to create a joint leadership under their leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

Both were later appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council, together with three other Kurds.

Many ordinary Kurds long for full independence and have a signed a petition calling for a referendum on succession.

But their leaders have made it clear that they will seek only autonomy within a united Iraq.

The Kurds, who make up 15-20% of Iraq's population, gained political ground with the signing of the interim constitution in March 2004.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters in Kirkuk
The Kurds are reluctant to disband the peshmerga militias
Despite Shia objections, the document contained provisions for a federal state and would effectively have given the Kurds a veto on a permanent constitution to be drawn up by an elected assembly.

But senior Shia cleric Ayatollah Sistani has continued to oppose the constitution and it is not mentioned in the draft UN resolution which sets out the terms for the 30 June handover of power.

The Kurds have the largest ethnic army in Iraq, the Peshmerga, who fought against Saddam Hussein for many years and also worked alongside US forces during the 2003 war.

Some of the fighters have switched to become members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Force.

But, despite coalition calls for all militias to be disbanded, the Kurds are resistant to giving up the entire force and with it their means of defending their autonomy.

The oil-rich, disputed city of Kirkuk, home to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, has been relatively peaceful but remains potentially explosive.

Kurdish fighters entered the city to reclaim it from Saddam Hussein's regime at the end of the war, but were swiftly forced out by US troops after pressure from Turkey.

KURDISH LEADERS AND PARTIES

Masoud Barzani, KDP

KDP leader Masoud Barzani
Masoud Barzani has lead the KDP for decades
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has remained a dominant force in Iraqi Kurdish politics for more than half a century.

Since the death of his father Mullah Mustafa in 1979, Massoud Barzani has led the KDP through decades of conflict with the Iraqi central government and with local rivals, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

The KDP commands tens of thousands of armed militia fighters, known as peshmerga, and controls a large area of north-western Iraq.

Mr Barzani was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Jalal Talabani, PUK

PUK leader Jalal Talabani (left) and US administrator Paul Bremer
PUK leader Jalal Talabani (left) sat on the Governing Council
Under the command of the veteran Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, the PUK has created militia forces and a party organisation to rival the traditionally dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The PUK, founded in June 1975, now claims to be a modern, social-democratic party with a membership of nearly 150,000. The party's literature says the PUK was founded in order to "rebuild and redirect Kurdish society along modern and democratic lines".

Mr Talabani was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Kurdish Islamic Union

The Kurdish Islamic Union, also known as Yekgirtu, is the largest Islamic organisation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The party was formally established in 1994 and is said to be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Sunni party well established in the Middle East.

The group's leaders fought the 1992 legislative elections in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, winning third place behind the KDP and PUK.

The party is currently led by Secretary-General Sheikh Salah al-Din Muhammad Baha al-Din, who represents it on the Iraqi Governing Council.

The party is supported mainly by donations from Saudi Islamic organisations, and is said to support the creation of an Islamic state which respects the rights of the Kurds.

Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim and although Kurdish society is usually considered more liberal than the rest of Iraq, Islamist parties made big gains in Iraqi Kurdistan during the 1990s.


The Struggle for Iraq

GUIDE: WHO'S WHO IN IRAQ

Jalal Talabani Overview
A look at the key players in post-Saddam Iraq

TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT


ISLAMIC GROUPS AND LEADERS
 

SECULAR GROUPS AND LEADERS
 

NATIONAL GROUPS
 



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