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Who could replace Iraq’s Maliki?

In this Friday, March 26, 2010,  photo, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks to the press in Baghdad. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a premier in his labyrinth: he faces both the onslaught of Sunni extremist militants who have proclaimed their own Islamic State as well as a rancorous parliament, with many critics calling for his departure, blaming the crisis on the Shiite politician's heavy-handed rule.

There's a growing consensus that Maliki must go, though it is unclear when and under what circumstances. It's likely his successor will be someone from his political faction. Maliki came to power in similar fashion in 2006, plucked from relative obscurity to succeed then prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who like now, was struggling to form a government in the midst of a bloody, horrifying insurgency. Here are some politicos being touted to replace Maliki.

Tariq Najm al-Abdullah
Abdullah is Maliki’s former chief of staff and a close adviser. Liz Sly, The Washington Post's Beirut bureau chief, reports: "A senior member of Maliki’s Dawa Party, he is thought to be the candidate most likely to win the support of Maliki’s own supporters as well as those eager to see anyone but Maliki get the job." He has a reputation of being something of a mediator and is on good terms with the U.S., Turkey and Iran, as well as with the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq's north that is inching towards secession.

Bayan Jabr
A trained civil engineer, Jabr served as Iraq's interior minister for a brief spell between 2005 and 2006 at the height of the sectarian bloodbath spurred by the Sunni insurgency. Jabr's ministry was accused then of directly working with Shiite death squads that targeted Sunnis, though he denied any knowledge of such activities. He's currently a leading politician in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, one of the country's most prominent Shiite political parties.

Hussein Shahristani
Currently deputy prime minister, Shahristani, a trained scientist, claims he was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein's regime for not cooperating with the dictator's plans to build a nuclear program. He is credited with reviving Iraq's oil industry, but his insistence that all oil in the country fall under the purview of the Shiite-dominated government has angered Sunnis and Kurds.

Falah Fayadh
Maliki's national security adviser, Fayadh has played a leading role in recent years in Baghdad's attempts to patch up relations with Turkey as well as broker some sort of peace in Syria.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi
A French-trained economist, Abdul-Mahdi is also a member of the Supreme Council. According to Sly, he is said to be "a moderate former vice president whose candidacy was favored on several occasions in the past by the United States, but frowned upon by Iran."

Jaafar Sadr
The son of the influential Shiite cleric Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, killed in 1980 by the Hussein regime, Sadr is expected to contend for power. But he commands little support outside the Sadrist camp.

Ahmed Chalabi
Chalabi became a household name in the U.S. at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq--after he was credited with providing the U.S. the dubious intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. He soon fell out with the U.S. after allegations that he was also spying for Iran. But he still wields political clout. Sly reports: "[Chalabi is] a perennial who presents himself as a compromise candidate after every election. He has no real constituency and won only one seat in parliament, but he has the support of the Sadrists and is being regarded by Sunnis as a chance to move away from [Maliki's] Shiite Islamism."

Ayad Allawi
The secular Shiite politician was installed by the occupying U.S. forces as prime minister in 2004, but lost heavily in elections the following year. He served for a time in Saddam Hussein's Baath party and appeals particularly to urban Iraqis eager for a politics that isn't wholly shaped by tribal, sectarian interests. In opposition to Maliki, he has called for more inclusive governance that better accounts for Iraq's Sunni minority. Perhaps had that message been better heeded, we would not be seeing the sort of turmoil and unrest currently gripping Iraq.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.

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