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Mourners take the coffin of former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during his funeral procession, Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, Oct. 6, 2017 (AP photo).

Jalal Talabani’s Approach to Leadership and Identity in Iraq—and Beyond

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017

Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader and former president of Iraq, died earlier this month, five years after being incapacitated by a stroke and days after a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence. His life and legacy offer insights into the complex mix of leadership and identity in Kurdistan and Iraq—or, for that matter, in Catalonia and other places where identity does not align easily with the borders of a nation state.

Talabani was a towering figure in both Kurdish and Iraqi politics, and moved easily between these two magnetic poles. No one could doubt his devotion to Kurdish rights and the Kurds’ evolving political ambitions at the end of the Saddam Hussein era. Yet he also cared about the viability of Iraq as a multicultural nation, and as president from 2005 until he was replaced by another Kurd, Fuad Masum, in 2014, he played an exceptional role in cajoling various factions to work together. Even in the 1990s, when Arab opposition forces lived in the Kurdish region as part of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress working to oust Saddam, Talabani was a charismatic presence who worked tirelessly to promote a more liberal and inclusive political culture for his country. ...

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