Profile: Nouri Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki first came to power in 2006, at a time when sectarian violence was threatening to tear the country apart.
He has remained in his post since then despite losing the last parliamentary election in 2010 by two seats to a rival alliance.
Mr Maliki resisted pressure from Washington to request an extension of US troop presence in the country, and presided over the formal end of the US military presence in Iraq.
But just days after the last American soldiers returned home, the fragile national unity government led by Mr Maliki began to unravel.Self-imposed exile
Nouri Mohammed Hassan Maliki was born near the Iraqi town of Hilla in July 1950. He has a master's degree in Arabic literature and is married with four daughters and one son.
- Joined the Islamic Dawa Party in the late 1960s
- Helped organise resistance against Saddam Hussein's regime; Fled to Syria in the 1970s
- Led the Dawa Party in Syria in the 1980s
- Returned to Iraq after Saddam toppled in 2003
- Became lawmaker and deputy chair of de-Baathification committee under the Coalition Provisional Authority
- Appointed prime minister on 20 May 2006 as a compromise candidate among Sunni Arab, Shia and Kurdish parties
- Reappointed prime minister on 21 December 2010
His grandfather, Mohammed Hassan Abul Mahasin, was a poet and rebel fighter who opposed the British occupation of Iraq in the 1920s.
He is widely seen as the inspiration for Mr Maliki's strong nationalist ideals and his decision to join the Shia Islamist Dawa (Call) party as a university student in Baghdad in the 1970s.
As Saddam Hussein's Baathist government hunted down its opponents, Mr Maliki followed other Dawa leaders into exile - fleeing the country in 1979 and finding refuge in Iran and Syria.
Despite Dawa's Islamist roots, Mr Maliki has sought to position himself as a strong and unifying leader in post-Saddam Iraq since coming to power in May 2006.
But in recent years Iraqi politics has taken an increasingly sectarian turn, and Mr Maliki has been accused of seeking to concentrate power in the hands of a Shia-dominated central government.Return to Iraq
Mr Maliki returned to Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003 that overthrew Saddam Hussein and Dawa soon emerged as a major political force - with Mr Maliki among its vanguard.
He served as a spokesman for the party as well as for the broader coalition of Shia parties, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), which won the most seats in legislative elections in December 2005.
A relatively unknown figure internationally until his nomination for the office of prime minister, Mr Maliki nonetheless played a major role in shaping Iraq after the US invasion.
He helped draft the country's new constitution and was a member of a committee, set up by the US, tasked with purging Iraq of its Baathist legacy.
The work of the committee attracted criticism for apparently extending its crackdown to officials that had been Baath Party members.Turbulent times
In 2007, Mr Maliki authorised a surge in US troop numbers that targeted al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni militants and led the 2008 campaign against Shia militias loyal to the radical cleric, Moqtada Sadr.
Under fire from his Shia allies and under pressure to reconcile with Iraq's Sunni community, he split from the UIA in early 2009 and formed the broader-based State of Law coalition.
The alliance campaigned on a platform of a unified Iraq in the March 2010 elections, but lost by a mere two seats to the mostly Sunni-backed al-Iraqiyya alliance of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
In the months of deadlock that followed the poll, he was accused of turning to Tehran to help rebuild his power base and remain prime minister. The support of Moqtadr Sadr's bloc - reportedly the result of pressure from the Iranian government - was crucial.Fragile coalition
Mr Maliki eventually formed a government of national unity after nine months of tortuous negotiations.
The coalition, which included representative of Mr Allawi's bloc, proved fragile and incapable of resolving key divisive issues, such as oil and gas legislation.
The power-sharing deal was suddenly placed in jeopardy in late December 2011, after the withdrawal of US troops, when arrest warrants were issued for a senior member of al-Iraqiyya, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi.
Mr Hashemi, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, was accused of funding attacks on government and security officials during Iraq's bloody insurgency.
In the ensuing crisis, Mr Allawi's bloc suspended participation in both the government and parliament in protest, while Mr Hashemi sought sanctuary under Kurdish protection in the north and vehemently denied the allegations.
Opponents of Mr Maliki said he was using the judiciary to silence his opponents and take full control of the government, but he argued that decision to issue an arrest warrant for the vice-president was not politically motivated.