Former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the country’s first non-Arab president, has died at the age of 83, his family said.
His niece, Alaa Talabani, an Iraqi member of parliament, confirmed his death to CNN, after it was reported by Iraqi state TV and Kurdish media.
Talabani, who was Kurdish, was elected was head of state in the wake of the United States-led invasion of the country. He served as president from 2005 to 2014 and oversaw the implementation of a new constitution that strengthened the autonomy of the Kurdish region of Iraq.
Talabani’s death comes a week after Iraqi Kurds voted to secede from Iraq in a controversial referendum.
The last seven years of his tenure were marked by multiple episodes of illness. He had a stroke 2012 and spent time in Germany for 18 months of treatment just before the end of his presidency.
Born in the village of Kelkan in Iraqi Kurdistan, Talabani was an advocate for the rights of the Kurdish minority in Iraq since his adolescence. At age 14, he joined the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which began a rebellion in northern Iraq in the 1960s.
In 1975, he founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), an organization striving to promote the autonomy and independence of the Kurdish people from the rest of Iraq.
As Secretary General of the PUK, he became involved in armed resistance against the government of Saddam Hussein.
Two years after Hussein was deposed by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Talabani was elected president by the transitional national assembly.
During his tenure, the 2005 Iraqi constitution upheld Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy – first established in 1991 by the US, the United Kingdom and France – which barred Iraqi forces from operating within the northern Kurdish region of the country.
In 2006, Talabani won a second term as president as part of an interim Iraqi government. In November 2010, he was re-elected president by the new Iraqi parliament.
Marking the end of the US military presence in Iraq in December 2011, Talabani conferred upon coalition officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, the “shield of commitment medal.”