Barzani, the president of Iraq's Kurdish region, is seen as a pragmatic leader [EPA] 

Massoud Barzani, a former guerrilla fighter, has led the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) since 1979, battling for autonomy for Iraq's Kurdish region.

The KDP is one of the two dominant parties in the northern Kurdish region.

Following the removal of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's former president, in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Barzani was appointed to the interim Iraqi Governing Council, where he became an important player in achieving official recognition for the Kurdish region and its local government.

Currently the elected president of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Barzani has been fiercely critical of perceived attempts by Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, to centralise power in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraq's outspoken Kurds have made neighbours such as Turkey and Iran wary of the ambitions of their own Kurdish minorities. In recent months, however, Barzani has moved closer to Ankara as Turkish companies began to heavily invest in post-war reconstruction in the KRG-administered areas.

Political transformation

The son of Mustafa Barzani, a Kurdish nationalist hero, Barzani is often seen in traditional Kurdish dress and turban.

Born in 1946, in Mahabad, Iran he grew up in Iraq and took control of the KDP after his father's death to continue battling the Iraqi government.

He escaped an assassination attempt in 1979, while he was on a trip to Vienna.
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war, when a US-led Western alliance fought Saddam over his invasion of Kuwait, Kurdish fighters, encouraged by the West, battled Baghdad.

Although the West refused to intervene when Saddam crushed the Kurdish uprising, it later declared Iraq's Kurdish region a safe area and a "no-fly" zone above the 36th parallel.

The move saw the erosion of the central government's powers from northern Iraq, prompting Barzani to evolve from a guerrilla fighter to political leader.

The KDP banded together with the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani, Iraq's current president, to run the region.

But in 1994 the region dissolved into a four-year civil war between the two groups. 

In 1996, while Talabani turned to Iran for help, Barzani called on Saddam to send troops and help him capture Erbil from the PUK.

Though the KDP and the PUK have since joined forces to dominate the region, signing a peace agreement in the US in 1998, rivalry between the supporters of Barzani and Talabani apparently persists.

Nevertheless, the KDP and PUK have run in national elections as a unified Kurdish Alliance (KA). In 2005, they won 53 seats to be the second largest bloc after the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance in parliament.

Barzani's KDP is joining the PUK as part of the alliance in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary election.

Source: Al Jazeera