Iraq profile

President: Jalal Talabani

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani President Talabani is a veteran of Kurdish and Iraqi national politics

Jalal Talabani - a veteran leader of Iraq's minority Kurds - became Iraq's first elected president in more than 50 years in 2005.

He was selected for a second term in 2006, and in November 2010 he was picked for another term by members of parliament under a power-sharing deal which followed months of negotiations after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March.

His health went into sharp decline in the following two years, and he suffered a stroke in December 2012. He has been undergoing treatment in Germany since then, and is making progress.

He became a key player in Iraqi national politics following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion, with the Kurds forming a powerful voting bloc in the national parliament.

Talabani, who is seen as being close to both the United States and Iran, won praise at the height of Iraq's sectarian war for building bridges between the country's divided factions.

Born in 1933, Mr Talabani rose to a senior position in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), but split from it in 1974 and helped to form the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK the following year. The KDP and PUK have alternatively been bitter rivals and allies, currently administering the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

Prime minister: Nouri al-Maliki

Nouri al-Maliki, a former rebel who led the first full-time government after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, was picked for a second term as prime minister in November 2010.

Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki

Nouri al-Maliki organised resistance against Saddam Hussein and is serving his second term as premier

He was chosen by parliament under a power-sharing agreement after the inconclusive elections of March 2010. Mr al-Maliki's Shia-backed State of Law coalition came second in the poll, after the Sunni Al-Iraqiya alliance of former premier Iyad Allawi.

The national unity government that was approved by parliament in December 2010 included all major factions. It has proved to be fragile and riven by tensions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish blocs.

At the end of 2011, there were fears of renewed sectarian conflict as the government looked like it might collapse. An arrest warrant was issued for the Sunni deputy vice president, Tareq al-Hashimi, over alleged links to terrorism - accusations which he denied.

Observers said it appeared that Mr al-Maliki was trying to consolidate his grip on power by pushing out top Sunni politicians.

Born in 1950, Mr al-Maliki fled a death sentence for his political activism in 1980 and lived in exile in Syria and Iran, working for the opposition Shia Islamic Dawa Party.

He returned to Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003 and became a member of the de-Baathification commission that removed Saddam supporters from public office.

He was relatively unknown internationally until he was nominated for the premiership in May 2006, after the Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties objected to the reappointment of prime minister Ibrahim Al-Ja'fari.

He struggled to control a fractious government forged of fragile alliances and his first two years in office were marked by rampant bloodshed. He emerged stronger after sending the army to fight Shia militia and presiding over a sharp fall in overall violence, but a resurgence of Sunni extremist attacks on Shias and Christians made 2013 the bloodiest year since 2007.

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