Masoud Barzani (Kurdish: مه‌سعوود بارزانی, romanized: Mesûd Barzanî;[4][5] born 16 August 1946) is a Kurdish politician who has been leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) since 1979, and was President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from 2005 to 2017.

Masoud Barzani
مه‌سعوود بارزانی
Barzani in 2005
President of Kurdistan Region
In office
14 June 2005 – 1 November 2017[1]
(Mandate expired on 19 August 2015)
Prime MinisterNechirvan Barzani
Barham Salih
Nechirvan Barzani
Vice PresidentKosrat Rasul Ali
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byNechirvan Barzani
President of the Governing Council of Iraq
In office
1 April 2004 – 30 April 2004
LeaderPaul Bremer
Preceded byMohammad Bahr al-Ulloum
Succeeded byEzzedine Salim
Personal details
Born (1946-08-16) 16 August 1946 (age 77)
Mahabad, Iran[2]
CitizenshipIraq, Turkey (1992–2003)[3]
Political partyKurdistan Democratic Party

Early life and career

Barzani was born in the territory controlled by the self-declared Republic of Mahabad, and succeeded his father Mustafa Barzani as leader of the KDP in 1979.[6]

Working closely with his brother Idris Barzani until Idris's death, Barzani and various other Kurdish groups fought with the Islamic Republic of Iran against the Iraqi military during the Iran–Iraq War.[6] Barzani has played a key role in the development of the Kurdistan Region polity since the Gulf War.[7]

President of Kurdistan Region

A young Massoud Barzani with Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim

A major result of Saddam Hussein's defeat in the Gulf War (1991) and Operation Provide Comfort was the ultimate establishment of Kurdish control over their traditional homeland in northern Iraq, known as Iraqi Kurdistan and "South Kurdistan". In 1992, he was given a Turkish passport by the then-president Turgut Özal in order to help Barzani travel freely.[3] Just a few months after the creation of the autonomous zone, free elections (a first in Iraq) were held in 1992. The two main Kurdish parties, namely Barzani's KDP and the Jalal Talabani-led Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), split the vote, and subsequently split the government ministries evenly. In May 1994, however, fighting broke out between the Peshmerga of the PUK and of the KDP. On August 31, 1996 Barzani called on the assistance of Saddam Hussein's regime to help him combat the PUK, which was receiving Iranian assistance. With the aid of the Iraqi army, the KDP drove the PUK from Iraqi Kurdistan's major cities. The PUK eventually regrouped and retook Suleimani and parts of Hawler province. An end to the civil war was brokered in 1998 in the Washington Peace Accords, leaving the Kurdish zone divided between the KDP in the Northwest and PUK in the Southeast.[8] After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the KDP and PUK gradually established a unified regional government. Barzani became a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and was the president of the council in April 2004. He was elected as the President of Iraqi Kurdistan by the Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2005.[9][10][11]

President George W. Bush talks to reporters as he welcomes Masoud Barzani to the Oval Office at the White House, Tuesday, 25 October 2005

As President of the Kurdistan Region, Barzani has made official visits to several countries and met dignitaries of the likes of US President George W. Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Pope at the Vatican, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh.[12]

In July 2009, in the first direct elections for the presidency of the autonomous Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani was reelected as president by a popular ballot, receiving 69.6% of the votes. The elections were closely monitored by international observers and the Iraqi Electoral Commission. In August 2013, after the expiration of his 8-year term, the parliament extended his presidency for another two years, and he continued in the role even beyond this extension.[13][14]

Masoud Barzani was one of the eight candidates shortlisted in the Time magazine's 2014 Person of the Year, for his efforts to push for Kurdish independence with the ongoing fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.[15]

2017 independence referendum

Barzani meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in January 2019

On 7 June 2017, Barzani had announced that Kurdistan Region would hold an independence referendum on 25 September 2017.[16] On the day following the referendum, 26 September 2017, he announced that the referendum had been a success in seeking independence, and called on neighboring countries to be open to future dialogue.[17]

The Iraqi government rejected the results of the referendum. On 15 October, units of the Iraqi security forces and Popular Mobilization Forces, entered the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, forcing a withdrawal of the Peshmerga and prompting similar withdrawals across other contested cities in northern Iraq.[18]

Following the failure of the referendum and the Peshmerga's territorial losses, Barzani announced on 29 October that he would step down as the President of Kurdistan Region.[19]

He is still the president of the KDP and receives ambassadors.[20][21]


Members of the Barzani family allegedly control a large number of commercial enterprises in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a gross value of several billion dollars, although no evidence of such ownership by Masoud Barzani himself exists. While accusations of corruption against both the KDP-Barzanis and the PUK-Talabanis are often levied by both Kurdish sources and international observers such as Michael Rubin, President Barzani on several occasions has denied involvement in any commercial enterprises.[22]

Insufficient financial transparency in the region serves to both exacerbate the accusations and hamper efforts to find any evidence of malfeasance. In July 2010 the opposition paper Rozhnama accused the Barzani-led KDP of pocketing large sums from illegal oil-smuggling.[23]

In December 2005, Kamal Qadir, a Kurdish legal scholar with Austrian citizenship, was arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan for a series of articles criticizing Barzani's government and family. He was charged with defamation and sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment.[24] He was released in 2006 following international pressure from Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, and the government of Austria.[25] In May 2010 the journalist Sardasht Osman was killed after criticising the Barzani family.[26]

Barzani's detractors say he is tribal, conservative, and unworldly, often playing traditional tribal roles. However, his administration in Erbil successfully built modern transportation infrastructures, attracted foreign business investment, and prioritized education.[27]

See also


  1. ^ "The path to resignation of Masoud Barzani". TRT World. Archived from the original on 20 April 2019. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  2. ^ Burnett, M. Troy (2020). Nationalism Today: Extreme Political Movements around the World [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 388. ISBN 978-1440850004.
  3. ^ a b "Kırmızı pasaportu geri verdi". (in Turkish). 24 December 2003. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  4. ^ "Mesûd Barzanî: Mehmed Uzun di pêşdebirina çîroka kurdî de roleka diyar hebû" (in Kurdish). 11 October 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  5. ^ "ژیاننامه‌ی سه‌رۆك مه‌سعود بارزانی" (in Kurdish). Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  6. ^ a b "The National". Masoud Barzani the 'servant of an independent Kurdistan'. 23 September 2017. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  7. ^ Michael R. Fischbach, ed. Biographical encyclopedia of the modern Middle East and North Africa (Gale Group, 2008) pp 158-161.
  8. ^ Iraqi Kurdistan: Political Development and Emergent Democracy, Routledge/Curzon, 2003
  9. ^ "Middle East | Iraqi Kurdistan leader sworn in". BBC News. 14 June 2005. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Kurds in Northern Iraq Elect Regional President". 12 June 2005. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  11. ^ "President Bush Meets with President Barzani of Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq". 25 October 2005. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  12. ^ "Kurdistan Region Presidency (KRP)". Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Chomani, Kamal. "Iraqi Kurdistan Elections Could Be Turning Point". Ekurd. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Kurdistan: Fin de renaissance: Once booming, the statelet is now in crisis". The Economist. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  15. ^ "TIME Unveils Finalists for 2014 Person of the Year". Time. 8 December 2014. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  16. ^ "Iraqi Kurds set date for independence referendum". Muslim Global. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  17. ^ "President Barzani claims victory in independence referendum". Rudaw. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  18. ^ Martin Chulov. "Kurdish forces abandon long-held lands to Iraqi army and Shia fighters". The Guardian, 17 October 2017.
  19. ^ "Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to step down". BBC News. 29 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  20. ^ "Masoud Barzani hosts new Canadian, British Ambassadors to Iraq". Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  21. ^ "Senior Kurdish leader meets with EU Ambassador to Iraq". Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  22. ^ Rubin, Michael (January 2008). "Is Iraqi Kurdistan a Good Ally?". AEI Middle Eastern Outlook. Middle East Forum. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  23. ^ "Rudaw in English The Happening: Latest News and Multimedia about Kurdistan, Iraq and the World - KDP To Sue Change Movement's Paper". 20 July 2011. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  24. ^ Richard A. Oppel Jr. (26 January 2006). "Defamer or dissident? Kurd tests the new Iraq". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 October 2017. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  25. ^ "Cyber-dissident Kamal Sayid Qadir released". Reporters Without Borders via IFEX. 4 April 2006. Archived from the original on 13 August 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  26. ^ "Second journalist killed in Iraqi Kurdistan - Reporters Without Borders". 6 May 2010. Archived from the original on 24 September 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  27. ^ Fischbach, ed. Biographical encyclopedia of the modern Middle East and North Africa (Gale Group, 2008) p 161.
Political offices
Preceded by President of the Governing Council of Iraq
Succeeded by
New office President of Kurdistan Region
Succeeded by