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Ethnic Kurds are believed to constitute up to 20 percent of Iraq's 25-million people. Two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, share control of the Kurdish self-rule region, a Switzerland-sized slice of northern Iraq.

Though they have battled over power in the past, they now participate in a regional government and Parliament. Some background on the parties:

Kurdistan Democratic Party: The largest Kurdish party, founded in 1946 by Mullah Mustafa Barzani. The KDP led a major revolt in 1974-1975 that was crushed by the Baghdad government. After Barzani's death in 1979, he was succeeded by his son, Massoud Barzani. Saddam Hussein's military battled Kurdish forces throughout the 1980s, including a brutal campaign capped by the 1988 chemical attack on the town of Halabjah.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Kurds formed a self-rule region in northern Iraq under protection from the American and British air forces, but the region was divided between the KDP, centered in Irbil, and the PUK. In 1992, the two parties agreed on a regional Parliament and government, but in 1994 fighting broke out between them, leading to a four-year civil war.

After a U.S.-brokered truce, the two parties reopened Parliament and re-established the regional government, whose current prime minister is Massoud Barzani's brother, Nechervan Barzani. Massoud Barzani is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, created after Saddam's fall last year.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan: Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish military leader, broke from the KDP in 1975 to create the PUK. Its main power center has been in Sulaimaniyah. It and the KDP represented the main anti-Hussein forces on Iraqi soil after the Gulf War, and fighters from both parties backed American forces in last year's invasion.

Talabani holds a seat on the Governing Council and held the council's rotating presidency in November.