Baghdad: Iraq`s parliament convenes on Tuesday, the first time since April`s elections, with world leaders and the country`s top Shiite cleric urging the fractious politicians to unite and swiftly form a government.
Under a de facto agreement, Iraq`s prime minister is typically a Shiite Arab, while the speaker of parliament is a Sunni Arab and the president is a Kurd.
And though incumbent premier Nuri al-Maliki`s bloc won by far the most seats in the April 30 vote, he has faced calls to leave office over a militant offensive that has overrun swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad since June 9.
Here is a brief overview of the candidates seen as possible replacements for Maliki:
The former Iraqi vice president is a leading figure in the Citizen`s bloc, formerly known as the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, a political party seen as close to Iran. The French-speaking economist has long been touted as a potential prime minister. Maliki defeated his bid for the post by just one vote in an internal ballot within a pan-Shiite coalition that won December 2005 elections.
Maliki`s predecessor as prime minister remains the head of the National Alliance, the loose pan-Shiite coalition that includes the premier`s bloc and rival parties. He was ousted in favour of Maliki in 2006, when Iraq was embroiled in brutal communal bloodletting, because he was seen as too sectarian by minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Maliki`s chief of staff maintains a low profile in the news but wields considerable power behind the scenes and hails from the prime minister`s Dawa party, the oldest Shiite political party formed in opposition to former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Maliki`s national security adviser has been dispatched on critical missions in recent years, from trying to patch up deteriorating relations with Ankara to seeking to build support for a political solution to Syria`s civil war. Fayadh belongs to the Reform bloc of ex-premier Jaafari.
An engineer by training, Solagh spent years in exile in Syria and Iran, and is a leading member of the Citizen`s bloc. He has previously served as finance minister and interior minister. His stint heading the interior ministry from April 2005 to May 2006, however, was marred by accusations he set up death squads within the police to murder Sunnis. Solagh denies the charges.
The former deputy prime minister, whose faulty intelligence information encouraged the United States to invade Iraq in 2003, is now seen as closer to Iran, with the US military even accusing him while it was still stationed in Iraq of being "influenced" by Tehran. Chalabi is a mathematician by training and part of the Citizen`s bloc.
Iraq`s deputy prime minister is a nuclear scientist who spent years in solitary confinement, which he says was due to his refusal to help Saddam develop nuclear weapons. Now charged with the critical energy portfolio, Shahristani has drawn the ire of Kurds and Sunni Arabs for his insistence that control of the country`s oil and gas should be the exclusive purview of the federal government.