(b. Kelkan, Iraq, 12 Nov. 1933)
Iraqi; President 2005– Talabani was born in the Kurdish northern area of Iraq the year after Iraq became an independent state. He became active in the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), working for independence, and graduated from Baghdad University with a law degree in 1959. Talabani took part in the 1961 Kurdish revolt against the Iraqi government, and later undertook talks in Europe and the Middle East on behalf of the Kurdish leadership. Following the 1963 Ba'athist coup, Talabani led the Kurdish delegation in talks with the new government. In 1970 KDP leader Mustafa Barzani signed a peace agreement granting autonomy to the Kurds, but relations between the Kurds and the Iraqi government deteriorated, and in 1974 Barzani rejected the agreement.
Talabani helped found the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1975 and, over subsequent years, organized Kurdish resistance to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Talabani's PUK and Barzani's KDP were great rivals, but in 1987 they united as the Kurdistan Front to oppose Saddam Hussein's vicious ‘Anfal Campaign’ against the Kurds. Talabani fled to Iran, returning to Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War to lead a Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein, understanding that US support would be forthcoming. The uprising failed, the US refused to intervene, and Kurdish forces attempted to flee into Turkey, which closed its borders, leaving Kurds stranded in the mountains between Turkey and Iraq. Following the creation of a Kurdish ‘safe haven’ Talabani and Barzani negotiated with Hussein for an autonomous Kurdistan, and a joint PUK–KDP administration was set up following 1992 elections. However, tension between the two groups led to confrontation, the ‘fratricide war’, with Barzani appealing to Hussein for help to defeat the PUK in 1996. Talabani and Barzani signed a peace agreement in Washington in 1998, and agreed to work together. Kurdish fighters fought alongside US troops to take control of the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul following the US invasion in April 2003.
Following Hussein's overthrow, Talabani joined the Iraqi Governing Council and when elections for a Transitional National Assembly were finally held in January 2005 he was elected interim President. Barzani became regional President of Kurdistan in 2005. Iraq's Assembly re-elected Talabani as President in 2006, and he called on Nuri al-Maliki to serve as Prime Minister. Talabani has attempted to reduce Iraq's sectarian violence and to improve relations with Turkey, strained by Kurdish violence in Turkey, which had led to Turkish military operations into northern Iraq in 2007.