Fuad Masum, the new president of Iraq and a veteran Kurdish politician, speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on July 24, 2014, after he was elected by an overwhelming majority in the parliament
Fuad Masum, the new president of Iraq and a veteran Kurdish politician, speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on July 24, 2014, after he was elected by an overwhelming majority in the parliament © Ali Al-Saadi - AFP
Fuad Masum, the new president of Iraq and a veteran Kurdish politician, speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on July 24, 2014, after he was elected by an overwhelming majority in the parliament
AFP
Last updated: July 25, 2014

Iraq's new president Masum: thinker and fighter

Quiet and bookish, Iraq's president-elect Fuad Masum is different from jocular incumbent Jalal Talabani, but sharp political skills forged in the long battle for Kurdish self-determination are common to both.

Masum, an ethnic Kurd, fought a rebel war alongside childhood friend Talabani for a separate Kurdish homeland, and in 1992 became the first prime minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

Something of a political pioneer, Masum was also the speaker of the first Iraqi parliament to be formed after the US-led invasion of 2003.

Yet diminutive and bespectacled Masum is not an obvious fighter or risk-taker.

"He's quiet and a deep thinker, that's his personality. He thinks before he speaks," his brother Khodr Masum, head of Kurdistan's Koysinjaq university, told AFP.

"He's quiet during talks and negotiations. Courteous."

Born in 1938 to a religious family in a village near the Kurdish town of Halabja, Masum would go onto to study Islamic Sciences at Cairo's Al-Azhar university, one of the world's leading centres of Islamic learning.

Eventually gaining a doctorate, he came back to Iraq to teach at the University of Basra.

"He's always reading. All different types, history, politics. He likes Arabic literature a lot," Khodr Masum said.

Masum got his first taste of politics with the Iraqi Communist Party, before moving to join the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in 1964, then led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, father of current Kurdistan president Massud Barzani.

Between 1973 and 1975 he was the party's representative in Cairo.

But eventually the KDP would split, after Masum's friend Talabani fell out with Barzani -- the start of a long and deadly internecine feud among Iraqi Kurds.

Talabani went on to form the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and in 1976 Masum joined him as a founding member.

The pair would wage an armed struggle in the northern mountains against Saddam Hussein's forces, an unlikely path for a soft spoken academic.

Yet his ability to fight and think has served the married father of five daughters well. His supporters hope he can bring those skills to bear on Iraq's dangerously divided political arena.

"He listens to the opinion of others, and doesn't force his on you," Khodr Masum said.

"I think he'll be successful, because he has the ability and disposition."

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