|Iyad Allawi gained prominence when he was appointed Iraq's premier in 2004 [EPA]
Iyad Allawi is a former member of Iraq's once exiled opposition groups who later served as Iraq's first post-war prime minister.
He is currently the head of the Iraqiya Coalition, a political bloc comprising Shia and Sunni parties, which is seen by many analysts as a strong contender in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections.
Born on May 31, 1944, Allawi comes from one of Iraq's leading Shia families with a strong political pedigree; his grandfather helped negotiate Iraq's independence from Britain, and his father, a doctor, was also a member of parliament.
Allawi joined the Baath Party in 1961 while studying medicine at Baghdad University, then known as a recruiting ground for many political parties.
He quickly rose through the party ranks and became a senior figure after the 1968 bloodless coup that brought the Baathists to power with Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr as president and Saddam Hussein as vice-president.
But he fell out with the Baath party in 1971 and left to Lebanon where he became a member of its Pan Arab Organisation.
The Baghdad government then sent him to Britain to further his medical studies; he received a degree in neurology in 1982.
In 1976, he resigned from the Baath Party and reportedly established ties with MI6, the British spy agency.
Two years later, Allawi accused Baghdad of orchestrating an attack on his Kingston-upon-Thames home, but provided no solid evidence.
However, observers believe the attack might have been a response to Allawi's involvement in a failed military coup carried out by Iraqi generals to topple the al-Bakr government.
Opposition to Saddam
Shortly thereafter, Allawi began to organise a network of opposition groups seeking regime change in Baghdad.
In the 1980s, he toured the Middle East, holding secret meetings with other exiled Iraqis, and forging links with rebel army officers still in Iraq.
After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Allawi established and headed the Iraqi National Accord (INA) and in 1996 persuaded senior Iraq military officers to overthrow Saddam.
However, the plot ended in disaster as the CIA-backed operation was infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence agents - the Mukhabarat.
Reports later emerged that several military officials, including more than 100 of Allawi's collaborators were executed.
Iraq Liberation Act
Nevertheless, Allawi remained an active member of the exiled opposition community and in 1998 received overt US support and funding when Congress passed the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act.
Working with other opposition groups, such as Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, Allawi supplied information and defectors to Washington as the Bush administration began to build its case to invade Iraq.
Between December 2002 and January 2003, Allawi attended several conferences which grouped a number of Iraqi opposition groups who mapped out how to govern Iraq after the anticipated US invasion and removal of the Baathist government.
Much of the information passed by these opposition groups was used by Colin Powell, the then US secretary of state, at his United Nations Security Council presentation to convince the world body of the need to invade Iraq.
Core contents of Powell's report were later found to have been unsubstantiated.
Following the US-led invasion in March 2003, Allawi returned to Baghdad for the first time in 30 years and was appointed to the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) by Paul Bremer, the US administrator.
He chaired the security committee, a key position, as Iraq attempted to rebuild its army and police force.
But he opposed Bremer's decision to disband the Iraqi army and his de-Baathification programme, arguing that it was imperative to preserve Iraq's national institutions if the country were ever to recover.
In 2004, the IGC voted unanimously to endorse Allawi as Iraq's first interim prime minister.
Iraqi politicians described him as "secular and clever" and that he had a good relationship with both the Sunnis and the Shia.
However, many Iraqis blame him for agreeing to US plans to attack Falluja, in the western province of Anbar, in May and October 2004.
Human rights groups and Falluja residents say thousands of civilians were killed during the Falluja campaign and that white phosphorous was illegally used in the city.
Nevertheless, Allawi remained prime minister of the interim government until the Iraqi Transitional Government was installed following national assembly elections on January 30, 2005.