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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Who's who in Iraq: Jalal Talabani
Jalal Talabani
Talabani has been active in Iraqi Kurdish politics for half a century
Jalal Talabani, widely referred to by Kurds as Mam (uncle) Jalal, is one of the longest-serving figures in contemporary Iraqi Kurdish politics.

A Baghdad University law graduate, he is considered to be a shrewd politician with an ability to switch alliances and influence friends and foes alike.

Analysts say the success of Mr Talabani's presidency could greatly improve Kurd-Arab ties in Iraq.

On the other hand, if more differences emerge, it could poison the strained relationship, burdened by years of bad blood.

Mr Talabani is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish parties that dominate northern Iraq's Kurdish region.

The party has traditionally drawn its support from among the urban population and radical elements in Kurdish society.

The PUK stronghold is Sulaymaniya and the south-eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan - with the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, to the north and west.

It commanded a militia force of more than 20,000 peshmerga fighters - making it a key military asset for its US allies.


Born in 1933, Jalal Talabani began his political career in the early 1950s as a founder member and leader of the KDP's Kurdistan Students Union.

He rapidly moved up within the party ranks to become a senior member of the KDP.

Talabani in 1991
He has been both politician and guerrilla leader
In 1961, he joined the Kurdish revolt against the government of Abdul Karim Qasim.

After the coup that ousted Qasim he led the Kurdish delegation to talks with President Abdul Salam Arif's government in 1963.

Subsequent differences with KDP leader Mustafa Barzani began to emerge and in 1975 he joined a KDP splinter group, the KDP-Political Bureau, led by his future father-in-law and the party ideologue Ibrahim Ahmad.

In 1966, the group formed an alliance with the central government and took part in a military campaign against the KDP.

The group was dissolved when the KDP and the government signed a peace agreement in March 1970.


Jalal Talabani and a number of others founded the PUK in 1975. It was to be a socialist party which he said would be a break from the "tribalist" KDP.

Talabani with Saddam Hussein
A long career marked by wildly changing allegiances
A year later it began an armed campaign against the central government.

The PUK suffered a severe setback when the Iraqi Government used chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988 and Mr Talabani was forced to leave northern Iraq and seek refuge in Iran.

The Talabani-Barzani or PUK-KDP rivalry has been a dominant factor in Iraqi Kurdish politics for the last three decades.

Safe haven

A new era in Mr Talabani's political life began in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and the Kurdish uprising in the north against the Iraqi Government.

The declaration by the Western alliance of a no-fly zone and a safe haven for Kurds marked the beginning of a short-lived honeymoon with the KDP.

Elections were held in Iraqi Kurdistan and a PUK-KDP joint administration was established in 1992.

Kurdish girl carries poster showing Talabani and Barzani
The two rivals were finally united in the push to overthrow Saddam
The underlying tension between the two parties led to armed confrontation, dubbed the fratricide war, in 1994.

After concerted efforts by the US and, to a lesser extent Britain, and numerous meetings between the two parties' delegations, Mr Talabani and KDP leader Massoud Barzani signed a peace agreement in Washington in 1998.

The accord was further cemented on 4 October 2002 when the regional parliament reconvened in a session attended by both parties' MPs.

In that session, Mr Talabani proposed that the parliament should pass a law prohibiting and criminalising inter-Kurdish fighting.

New era

Ahead of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the two parties put aside long-standing rivalries once and for all to create a joint Barzani-Talabani leadership.

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

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

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

The spoils of war for each of them are great. Mr Talabani has achieved high office in Baghdad, while Mr Barzani is positioned to head the autonomous Kurdish government.

The Struggle for Iraq


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





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