Who's who in Iraq after the US exit?

The US troop surge in 2007 helped quiet Iraq's bloody civil war. But it failed to deliver on what US officials and officers said was crucial for Iraq's future at the time: sectarian reconciliation. Rather than forging a new national identity out of the horrors of Iraq's war, Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds sullenly retreated to their own sectarian corners, and the country's political parties remain vehicles for ethnic or sectarian interests. The next year is probably going to be the most crucial for determining the future of Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003, as Iraq's various political factions compete for power and influence without foreign troops getting in the way. Here are a few of the major players.

1. Nouri al-Maliki and the Dawa Party

Cliff Owen/AP
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki walks off stage after addressing the US Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Washington, on Dec. 13, 2011.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shiite Arab and leader of the Dawa, or Islamic call, party. It was one of the two main Shiite Islamist groups opposed to Saddam Hussein during his reign, with much of its leadership living in exile until the 2003 invasion. Mr. Maliki, like many of Iraq's Shiite Islamists, was supported by Iran during Mr. Hussein's reign and maintains warm relations with Tehran.

He's proven himself an adept politician, outmaneuvering fellow Shiite politicians and Sunni Arabs alike to retain the premiership after 2010's parliamentary election, though that successful effort did come at the cost of not forming a government until nine months after the election. Even then, he managed to convince his rivals to allow the crucial question of who would run the interior and defense ministries to be set aside, which has made him the de facto boss of the country's soldiers, police, and counterterrorism forces ever since.

The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), another Shiite Islamist group whose leadership was exiled until 2003, is backing Maliki for the moment. Since the US departure, Maliki's government has issued an arrest warrant for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and he's called for Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, another leading Sunni politician, to be removed from his post. He appears to be pursuing a strategy of consolidation, but he won't be unopposed.

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