Since 2006, Nouri al-Maliki has served as prime minister of Iraq. Under Iraq's parliamentary structure, the prime minister holds the major political and military power, while the president serves a largely ceremonial role. On Sunday, though, al- Maliki failed to form a new governing majority, prompting Iraq's parliament to remove al-Maliki's title and his party voted for a new leader, Haider al-Abadi, to form a governing majority. The U.S. clearly supports the move for a new prime minister, citing al-Maliki as an increasingly authoritarian leader. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden even called al-Abadi to congratulate him on taking over the office.

So who is al-Maliki and how did he get elected in the first place? Back in 2006, as Iraq was in the throes of civil war, the Bush administration began searching for someone who could replace incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The CIA spearheaded a search for a new Iraqi leader who had zero ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and could take a firm stance against Iran. Though President Bush and the CIA ultimately considered al-Maliki the best candidate, his relationship with the U.S. had problems from the beginning, with high-ranking officials receiving conflicting and confusing reports on al-Maliki. One American diplomat stationed in Iraq told The New Yorker, "Getting a detailed sketch of Maliki was very difficult...All we knew was that he was not a super-duper bad guy, like some of the others." Regardless, the United Iraqi Alliance coalition nominated al-Maliki as prime minister on April 21, 2006.

Over the course of al-Maliki's tenure, the Bush administration became increasingly frustrated with his leadership, fearing al-Maliki was pushing Iraq back to sectarian violence. In 2007, on a trip to Baghdad, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went as far as to say "You're a terrible prime minister...Without progress and without an agreement, you'll be on your own, hanging from a lamppost." More recently, al-Maliki (who, like al-Abadi, is Shia) called for the arrest of Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, and suppressed Sunni protestors in Western Iraq. Such tactics have helped the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) court Sunni tribes for its continued military expansion. Although Iraq's president has officially nominated Haider al-Abadi as the next prime minister, al-Maliki has vowed to fight the nomination in court.

What do you think of the U.S.' close involvement with Iraq's government? What other questions do you have about Iraq? Let us know in the comments below.

Learn More:

Maliki Seems to Back Away From Using Military Force to Retain Power (via The New York Times)
"After two days of defiant speeches and special security units deployed in the Iraqi capital, raising the specter of a coup, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appeared to back away on Tuesday from his implied threat to use force to stay in power, issuing a statement saying that the army should stay out of politics."

Iraq: Government (via Michigan State University)
"Iraq is a parliamentary democracy with a federal system of government."

Iran endorses Haider al-Abadi as Iraq's new prime minister, spurning Nouri al-Maliki (via The Washington Post)
"Iran endorsed Iraq's prime minister designate on Tuesday, striking a decisive blow against incumbent Nouri al-Maliki as a wide spectrum of domestic factions - and even his most loyal militia - also turned their backs on the country's longtime leader."

Iraqi Constitution (via Iraqi Nationality)
"We, the people of Mesopotamia, the homeland of the apostles and prophets, resting place of the virtuous imams, cradle of civilization, crafters of writing, and home of numeration."

What We Left Behind (via The New Yorker)
"An increasingly authoritarian leader, a return of sectarian violence, and a nation worried for its future."

_________________________

TestTube's new daily show is committed to answering the smart, inquisitive questions we have about life, society, politics and anything else happening in the news. It's a place where curiosity rules and together we'll get a clearer understanding of this crazy world we live in.