RISE TO POWER: The 60-year-old former schoolteacher with a master's degree in Arabic literature rose from obscurity in 2006 to become a compromise candidate for prime minister.
STRENGTHS: Adept at pulling together often antagonistic factions and has overseen a relative return to stability.
CRITICISM: Opponents say al-Maliki runs a secretive government and doesn't share power. He's been maligned by Sunnis for his hard-line religious stance and by fellow Shiites for cracking down on militias.
CHALLENGES AHEAD: How to apportion new government posts to Iraq's Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions and keep the country from sinking back into violence.