Iraq's parliament has elected Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as the country's new president, choosing a member of the long-repressed minority to be head of state. The assembly also chose two vice presidents: outgoing president Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, and interim Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite.

The Iraqi parliament elected Jalal Talabani president of the country by unanimous vote.

Mr. Talabani, who led a lengthy struggle for Kurdish independence from Iraq, told reporters his election means that all Iraqis are equal under the law.

"It means that there is no discrimination, that all Iraqis regardless, Kurds, Arabs, regardless of their religion or their nationality, they are equal and they have the same right to have the post which they deserve," he said.

Mr. Talabani and his two vice presidents were elected on the same ticket without opposition. And the balloting was swift and orderly, indicating that weeks of haggling over the new government are nearing an end.

The three, called the presidential council, are to be inaugurated Thursday. They are then to name the prime minister, expected to be Shi'ite leader Ibrahim Jaafari, who will form the new government.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Talabani promised to listen to the people and restore prosperity. He added that he would try to establish democratic rule, respecting human rights and the rights of all the people. And he pledged to root out terrorism and the remnants of the dictatorship of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, center, with deputies Hussain al-Shahristani, and Kurdish leader Aref Taifour, right (File photo)
The speaker of parliament, Hajem al-Hassani, a Sunni Arab who was elected last week, replied - saying it is an important day.

He said this is the new Iraq where a Kurd is elected president and, in reference to Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, an Arab president is elected his deputy.

One of the reasons for the delay in naming the new leadership was the desire to include Sunni Arabs in the government. Sunnis won less than 20 seats because of a boycott of last January's elections.

A leader of the Shi'ite group, which won more than half of the seats in parliament, Ahmed Chalabi, also expressed support, saying Mr. Talabani was eminently suited for the job.

"He is the best choice at this time,"  said Mr. Chalabi. "And the fact that he is a Kurd is also a message to the world and the region, that this is the age of democracy in Iraq and a country with an Arab majority has elected a Kurd to be its president."

Iraqi officials say deposed president Saddam Hussein and senior leaders of his regime were allowed to watch the proceedings on television from their prison cells.