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Jalal Talabani: From Kurdish rights leader to Iraqi president

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Despite his lifetime of working for Kurdish rights, Talabani promised to govern for all Iraqis ''freed from the most horrific dictatorship.''

source:  PUK website

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) As a Kurd in Iraq's disputed north, Jalal Talabani spent a lifetime resisting Arab domination. Now he will lead one of the largest and potentially wealthiest Arab nations.

After his election Wednesday as Iraq's interim president, the 71-year-old Talabani was conciliatory and reached out to his Arab neighbors.

''Our new Iraq ... is looking forward to having balanced relations with its neighbors in the Arab and Islamic worlds,'' he said.

But a former rebel who once took up arms against ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, Talabani is still expected to take his battle for Kurdish rights from the green, rolling hills of the Kurdish north to the heavily fortified Green Zone of Baghdad.

One of his biggest challenges will be Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 180 miles north of Baghdad that the Kurds want to incorporate into their self-governing region. The future of the disputed city is expected to be decided as lawmakers draft a final constitution by Aug. 15.

In the coming weeks, Talabani will also oversee the return of Kurds displaced by ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

After his election Wednesday, Talabani's posters were plastered on cars and residents broke into celebratory dances in the streets of Kirkuk and the Kurdish-run region in the north.

''Today Jalal Talabani made it to the seat of power, while Saddam Hussein is sitting in jail,'' said Mohammed Saleh, a 42-year-old Kurd in Kirkuk. ''Who would have thought?''

In Baghdad, three of Talabani's relatives attended his election in parliament, applauding and near tears as the results were announced.

''He deserves it,'' said Laylooz Ibrahim Ahmed, Talabani's sister-in-law. ''He has been struggling his whole life. I'm more than happy for him. I cannot even express how happy I am.''

Despite his lifetime of working for Kurdish rights, Talabani promised to govern for all Iraqis ''freed from the most horrific dictatorship.''

He was greeted by a standing ovation, and he threw his hands in the air and clenched his fists together in a sign of unity.

Born in 1933 in the village of Kelkan, Talabani began his lifetime of activism as a teenager, joining the Kurdish Democratic Party. He began studying law but had to go into hiding in 1956 to escape arrest for his political activities as founder and secretary general of the Kurdistan Student Union.

He eventually returned to law school and worked as an editor of two Kurdish publications. After graduating in 1959, he was called to military duty in the Iraqi army, serving as commander of a tank unit.

When the Kurdish north took up arms against the government in 1961, he led battles at home in Iraq as well as diplomatic missions to Europe and the Middle East to seek support for the Kurdish population.

With the collapse of the Kurdish revolt in 1975, he founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, an effort to redefine the political movement. He then led armed resistance against Saddam until 1988, when the Iraqi leader expelled Kurds from strategic areas in the north and gassed Kurdish towns near the Iranian border, killing tens of thousands of people.

After the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurdish regions protected by U.S. planes that enforced a no-fly zones enjoyed autonomy from the government in Baghdad. But Talabani and Kurdish Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani began fighting over control of the north.

A U.S.-sponsored truce was signed in 1998 and the two formed a Kurdish alliance for the historic Jan. 30 elections, winning 75 seats in the 275-member parliament. Talabani's PUK worked with the CIA in the months before the March 2003 invasion.

Associated Press Reporter Yahya Barzanji contributed to this report from Kirkuk.

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-05-20 07:25 AM

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