Famous Iraqi People: Iraqi Artists, Scientists, Leaders, Musicians, Politicians and Athletes
In this Country Profile
Iraq, the cradle of civilization, has been under several different dynasties that helped shaped the nation and its people. Although recent events, border wars and other political turmoil led to Iraq being war-torn, it still has a number of citizens who rose to prominence. Some of the famous people from Iraq on this page excel in the literary field, in music, sports and in politics.
:: List of Famous People from Iraq ::
Yûnis Reuf, more popularly called Dildar was born on the 20th of February 1918 during the reign of the Ottomans in a town called Koi Sanjaq. His school years were spent in Kirkuk and Baghdad. He finished law in 1945. Outspoken and fiercely nationalistic, he became a political activist as well as a poet. While in prison, where he was frequently tortured by the jail guards, he wrote a poem in Soranî-Kurdish entitled Ey Reqîb. It translates to Hey, Enemy or Oh, Enemy. The poem valiantly states that the Kurdish people and the youth, though suffering from oppression still have the power to live, to make sacrifices, to fight for their country and to move on. Although Dildar died at the age of 31 in 1948, his legacy lives on. His poem was adopted as the national anthem of the Kurds in 1946. While the Kurdistan Republic was short-lived, the anthem was adopted as the national anthem of the Iraqi Kurdistan region (federal south Kurdistan) by the Kurdistan autonomous government. The anthem is sung in Kurmancî and Sorani dialects.
Sheikh Riza Talabani
Riza Talabani was from Kirkuk where he was born in 1835. He was a poet who wrote his poems in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Kurdish. He went to Istanbul when he was around 25 years of age and visited the gravesite of Sheikh Nurredin Brifkani, a Kurdish Sufi. There he recited a poem written in Persian, telling of his journey from Kirkuk to Turkey. He expressed his political views through his poems, mainly using satire, arguments (flyting) and ribaldry. His works are considered by historians to be very much related to the identity of the Kurds living in the city of Kirkuk. Editions of his poetry continue to be published, with editions in Baghdad, Iran, Sweden, As Sulaymaniyah (Northern Iraq) and in Arbil, Iraq.
Tawfeq Mahmoud Hamza
Tawfeq Mahmoud Hamza, also known as Piramerd or Pîremêrd (Kurdish) was born in the city of Sulaymaniyah in 1867. He was a journalist, a poet, novelist and writer. Partukxane i Zanistî, the very first private Kurdish school built in Kurdistan was established by Hamza. He started working at the age of 15 and worked in different government offices in Iraq for 28 years. At the age of 31 he was invited by Sultan Abd-ul-Hamid II, an Ottoman, to go to Istanbul. Through his work the Sultan endowed him with the title of Bey. After a year Hamza was appointed to be a member of Istanbul’s High Majlis and as a faculty member of the law school in Istanbul. Hamza became a prominent political figure in Istanbul. He joined the Komela Kurd, a Kurdish organization in 1907 and served as governor of several districts in Kurdistan and Turkey from 1909 to 1923. He went back to Iraq and his hometown in 1925 and by 1926 was the editor of Jîyan, a Kurdish newspaper and became the publication’s manager after six years. He later shortened the name of the paper to Jîn in 1938. Hamza continued to manage the publication until his death in 1950.
Taufiq Wahby was a politician, writer and linguist. He was born in 1891. He served as colonel in the Ottoman army and later transferred to the Iraqi army after the creation of Iraq in 1920. He rose to prominence and was a minister in the Iraqi government for eight terms. Wahby made significant contributions in designing the new Kurdish alphabet, using the modified letters of Arabic as his basis.
Born in 1898, Rafiq Halmi became a writer, politician as well as historian. He hailed from Kirkuk. He was the author of several books on the history of the Kurdish language as well as the history of Kurdistan itself. He was educated in Baghdad, Sulaimaniyah and Istanbul.
He was a writer for the official publication of the Kingdom of Kurdistan, Rojî Kurdistan and also wrote for Bangî Kurdistan, another newspaper. His talent as a literary critic was recognized when the second volume of Kurdish Poetry and Literature that he wrote got published in 1956. Hilmi also tried his hands at politics in 1938 when he founded the Hîwa Party, meaning hope. At first it was a secret organization that was established in Kirkuk and had civil servants and intellectuals from the Kurdish community among its members. It was a nationalistic group with the aim of pushing for Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomy. While Hilmi was pro-British, most of the members of the Hîwa Party were left-leaning and established links in 1942 with the Komala JK in Mahabad in Iran, a Soviet Union-supported movement. The association was short-lived though because the Mahabad Republic in Iran collapsed in 1947. While still active in the Hîwa Party, Hilmi also served as the 1943 Education Director in his hometown of Sulaimaniyah. In 1954 he was the Deputy Governor of Baghdad and by 1959 was Iraq’s Cultural Attaché in Ankara.
Translator, novelist and writer Ibrahim Ahmad, a Kurd, was born in 1914 in Sulaimaniyah, a village in Iraqi Kurdistan. He was a law graduate from the University of Baghdad and became a judge in Halabja and Irbil from 1942 to 1944.
Before serving as a judge he was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Gelawêj, a Kurdish literary journal he founded with Alaadin Sajadi in 1939 and continued publishing the journal until 1949.
Right after his stint as a judge he became involved in politics and headed the Sulaimaniya branch of Komeley Jiyanewey Kurd, which later covered the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan. The group changed its name to Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1945 with Ibrahim Ahmad as the branch chairman. He was also the editor of the party’s magazine called Dengî Rastî. Ahmad became more actively involved in the political party and became its Secretary General in 1947. His involvement in the party did not sit well with the royalist regime and he received two 2-year convictions, and served one in a Baghdad prison and the other via local arrest in Kirkuk. He still managed to be the editor of the party’s newspaper while under local arrest. He went to Britain as a political refugee in 1975.
His 1956 novel Janî Gel deals with his people’s war of independence. It had been translated into Persian, Turkish and French.
Muhamad Salih Dilan
Dilan was considered as one of the most prestigious of Kurdish poets and Maqam singers of the 20th century. His influence in these the literary field brought a surge of interest in Kurdish literature and poetry. Maqam or by its long form Al-Maqam Al-Iraqi is a genre of Arab music found in Iraq and has existed for four centuries.
The poet cum singer was born in Goizha near Sulaimaniyah in 1927. His father was also a poet and Maqam singer, and was very influential in Dilan’s love for poetry and Maqam music.
Dilan and his musician brother, Qadir Dilan, met the elderly Tawfeq Mahmoud Hamza or Piramerd in 1948. Piramerd wrote a poem for Newroz and requested the brothers to write the melody for the poem and for Dilan to sing it. After a short time, the melody was perfected by Qadir and Dilan sang what will become a timeless classic for the first time on the 21st of March 1948. The song is still being played in Kurdistan during Newroz. Newroz or Nowruz is the equivalent of the New Year in Iran and in Persia. For the Kurds, Newroz is celebrated in remembrance of their deliverance from the clutches of a tyrant. The holiday also lends support to the continuing struggle of the Kurds. In Iraq it is celebrated during the spring equinox.
Dilan’s nationalism became evident in his poems and his involvement with the movement for Kurdish independence attracted the radar of the government and he was arrested several times, imprisoned and tortured in a span of thirteen years. He was sentenced to one-year imprisonment in 1963 for writing a poem entitled Rez, or Vineyard in English. It alluded to Omar Kayyam’s poem about drinking wine and the wind breaking the wine glass; to Plato who supposedly did his deep thinking inside a wine vessel and to the burning of the Kurdistan vineyards by the Iraqi government.
His poems were compiled and turned into a book called Diwani Dilan. It was published by his colleague, Abdulla Agreen in 1987. Dilan died in 1990.
Saad Eskander was born in 1962 in Baghdad. He is of Kurdish ancestry. He is an academic and researcher. He studied at the University of North London where he earned his bachelor’s degree in modern history then enrolled at the London School of Economics for his Ph.D. in history and international relations.
In 1981, Eskander became a member of the Kurdish Peshmerga (armed Kurdish freedom fighters) and for four years decided to live in the Iraqi Kurdistan Mountains before going to Syria and Iran. After finishing his studies he returned to Iraq in 2003 after his country was invaded and became the Iraq National Library and Archive’s director, He also wrote a blog from November 2006 up to July 2007 that chronicled the agonizing and torturous experience of being in Baghdad during the civil war. His blog was eventually published on the website of the British Library.
The Scone Foundation of New York awarded Eskander with the Archivist of the Year Award on November 12, 2007. In the same year he also won the MESA Academic Freedom Award, given by the Middle East Studies Association. He received an Honorary Fellowship of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals award in December 2008 for his distinguished service. The ceremony was hosted by the British Library.
Born in 1963 in Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Adnan Karim is an outstanding Kurdish singer whose family was forced to flee their hometown and had to settle in Sulaimaniyah during the first Iraq war. Although financially challenged he continued his education and graduated as a musical artist. His early exposure to story telling and traditional Kudish music had a great influence in his musical development. His musical style is considered by the Kurdish people to be pure in relation to traditional melodies. He immediately gained popularity in the Kurdish community because of this.
The threats and attacks on the Kurdish people during the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 1990s forced his family to live in exile in Sweden. He did not abandon his music while in his new homeland and took special courses to develop his style further. He sings his songs in different Kurdish dialects to bring his songs closer to his varied listeners, earning him praise and recognition in different Kurdish communities in parts of Europe and the Middle East. He still composes his songs and prefers to sing them with different musical instruments as accompaniment, most of the time playing them himself. He has participated in several international concerts and released several albums.
Chopy Fatah is a Kurdish singer who was born in Kirkuk in 1983. She was five when her family migrated to the Netherlands. This is where she developed as a Kurdish singer, first joining a school choir in 1990 and enrolling in a music school in 1996. Chopy enrolled in the Kurdish Music Academy in Germany in 1999 and the following year had a performance at The Hague. She has also participated in Shanisheen, a TV program shown on MedyaTV. Chopy has so far released four albums in 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011. She has had many international concerts in several countries in Europe and also had performances in Canada, United States, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Ukraine and enjoys great popularity in the Middle East. She has not forgotten where she was born and also held several concerts in different parts of Iraq, including her hometown of Kirkuk, even if security conditions were uncertain.
Mulla Abu Bakr Effendi
Mulla Effendi was born in 1863 in Arbil, Iraq to a family of illustrious Islamic scholars. Effendi grew up to be a prominent Islamic philosopher, Kurdish Muslim cleric, astronomer, politician and scholar. His family was held in prestige throughout Kurdistan centuries before Mulla Effendi was born. He was educated at the Great Mosque where his ancestors learned and taught, and he too, followed in their footsteps. Throughout his lifetime he established many mosques and schools in several villages, financed his students’ daily living and school allowances and granted hundreds of scientific licenses for scholars coming from the Middle East, Iran and of course, Iraq. He became the arbitrator and settled many tribal conflicts during the reign of the Ottomans, thereby receiving the highest recognition from Sultan Abdul Hamid II. He inspired and directed public opinion during the British Mandate and the creation of Iraq and supported the annexation of Mosul Wilayah to Iraq and honoring the rights of the Christians living in Ankawa. He opened his house as a safe haven for the royal family of Iraq in 1941. Upon the reinstatement of King Faisal II, Mulla Effendi was awarded the first order of Wisam al-Rafidain. Honors and tributes were accorded to Effendi during his lifetime and long after he was gone.
?ala? ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub
In the western world he is more known as Saladin, the first sultan of Syria and Egypt and the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. Saladin was born in Tikrit, Iraq circa 1138. When he was barely one year old his father, Najm ad-Din Ayyub was banished from their village and they moved, together with his uncle Asad al-Din Shirkuh to Mosul. His father later joined the Imad ad-Din Zengi, the Turkish emir of Mosul and served as a commander of the Baalbek fortress.
During his reign, Saladin led the Arab and Muslim opposition of the Franks and the Crusaders from Europe. He also extended his sultanate to reach across Mesopotamia, Yeman, Hejas and Kurdistan, aside from Syria and Egypt. Saladin led his forces personally to recapture Palestine from the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin on the 4th of July 1187, which led to the eventual collapse of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Saladin was a strict follower of Sunni Islam and his reputation as a chivalrous and noble person impressed many people, including the Crusaders, particularly Richard the Lionheart.
Jalal Tabalani is the first non-Arab and current President of Iraq. He was born on the 12th of November 1933 in Kelkan, a village in Talaban and a descendant of the Talabani tribe. At a young age he was already playing politics, forming a secret Kurdish student organization at the age of 13. Mustafa Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party sent him to Syria to study law in the 1950s. President Talabani is fluent in Arabic and Kurdish and has a working knowledge of English and Persian.
Talabani founded and became secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the main political parties of Kurdistan and is a strong advocate of Kurdish rights and democracy in the country. Prior to being Iraq’s president, he was an outstanding member of the Interim Iraq Governing Council after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003. His youngest son, Qubad lives in Washington, D.C. and is the Kurdistan Regional Government representative.
Abd al-Karim Qasim
Abd al-Karim Qasim, born in 1914 in Baghdad was a nationalist general in the Iraqi Army. He rose to power when he led a coup d’état in July 14, 1958 against King Faisal and his court. He immediately installed himself as the Prime Minister of Iraq after the elimination of the Iraqi monarchy. He was also the Defense Minister during his reign. His co-coup planner and executor, Colonel Abdul Salam Arif was installed as Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
He started his reign by adopting an interim constitution on the 26th of July 1958, whereby they declared Iraq as a republic, part of the Arab nation with Islam as the state religion. Kurdish freedom fighters that were in prison were released and allowed to return to their homes and Iraqi citizens were granted freedom regardless of race, religion, language and nationality. Political prisoners were also freed.
However, as his reign continues, it became more of an autocratic form of government rather than republican and he found himself counterbalancing the pan-Arabic and communist influences. He freed all communists that were in prison, the military became communist-controlled and the ban on the Iraqi Communist Party was lifted. He tried to institute agrarian reform and distributed farm lots using lands his government seized from the Iraq Petroleum Company owned by the British. He increased the size of the middle class and provided housing for the lower classes. He also rewrote Iraq’s constitution to increase the participation of women in society. His policy changes did not meet with one hundred percent approval from his cabinet and internal dissension arose. The dissent overflowed into the public and with the Kurdish autonomy remaining unfulfilled, civilian unrest soon ensued, instigated in part by the communists. He also made several errors in his foreign policies thereby isolating Iraq from the larger Arab community and with the internal conflicts within his cabinet, he, too became isolated. Qasim was overthrown by a Ba’athist-led coup on the 8th of February 1983.
Qasim’s rule had many positive results that benefited the Iraqis. He abolished polygamy and protected women from impulsive divorces and increased their participation in society. His land reform measures benefited farmers and removed oil fields and land holdings from foreign hands. Social welfare, education, housing and health care reforms were also started during his regime.
Hawar Mulla Mohammed Taher Zebari
Iraqis also love football and one of the most popular ones is Hawar Mulla who was born in Mosul on June 1, 1981. He currently plays for Zob Ahan in Iran as a winger and wingback, the club he joined on July 11, 2011. He was part of the Iraqi national football team that won the 2007 Asian Cup crown.
In 2008 he was signed up by Anorthosis Famagusta FC of Cyprus and became the first football player from Iraq to play in a UEFA Champions League game. He helped his team hold off Werder Bremen of Germany to a scoreless draw and kicked the winning goal against Greek super club Panathinaikos.
Hawar Mulla’s career started with Mosul FC and after three years he was under contract with the Al Quwa Al Jawiya in Baghdad and often got called up to the national team, earning 101 international caps and contributing 21 goals. While he is an Iraqi Kurd, he refused to play for the Kurdish national football team. There was no reason given and the media did not pursue it. He had short stints with other football clubs, including Al-Ansar (Beirut), Apollon Limassol (Cyprus), Al-Ain on loan (UAE), Al-Khor (Qatar), Persepolis (Iran), Arbil SC (Iraq) and Esteghlal (Tehran).
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