Prominent Kurdish politician who was the first non-Arab to become the president of Iraq
As president of Iraq from 2005 to 2014, Jalal Talabani, who has died aged 83, was the first non-Arab to lead the nation in modern times. He was a prominent figure in Kurdish politics, and his election as head of state marked a milestone for a people whose rights had been neglected for centuries. Kurds, numbering more than 30 million, do not have a state of their own, but live as minorities predominantly in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. A former Kurdish separatist fighter involved in resistance against the Iraqi government from the 1960s, Talabani rose to the top through a mixture of determination, guile and good luck.
For many years he infuriated Sunni Arab-dominated Baghdad. Ankara, too, feared that he would lure Turkish Kurds into a belligerent, breakaway republic. Iraqi Kurds regretted his murderous turf wars with the Barzani clan. After Saddam Hussein unleashed genocidal attacks on Iraqi Kurds in 1988 and 1991, Talabani’s demise seemed inevitable.