|After months of political deadlock, Nuri al-Maliki retained his post as prime minister [EPA]
Iraq held elections on March 7, aimed at electing a new parliament and a prime minister. The polls were seen to be a critical stage in the country's political development since the US-led invasion in 2003.
The country previously held national assembly elections in January 2005, and parliamentary elections in December of the same year.
Two significant differences separate Iraq's parliamentary election from the first poll held in 2005.
US combat troops have left, although their still is a large US military presence there. The other is that a large number Iraqi Sunnis who did not vote last time, cast their ballots.
A majority of Sunni politicians (and voters) boycotted the election process in 2005, in what they later admitted to have been a miscalculation which paved the way for Shia dominance of the Iraqi government and parliament.
Despite increased violence in the lead-up to the elections, Iraqis went to the polls in large numbers, with voter turnout standing at 62 per cent, according to officials.
Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, gained 91 seats, and his main rival Iyad Allawi gained 89 seats.
The election results, however, added to rather than reduced the country's political turmoil and ended up reinforcing rather than easing the country's sectarian tensions.
Eight months of political deadlock ensued, and in the months that followed, neither side was able to pull together a coalition that would allow them to create a new government.
But on October 1, al-Maliki struck a deal with a Shia factions that had previously opposed him, putting him within striking distance of a majority in the new 325-member parliament.
Al-Maliki had won the support of Shia movements, including a faction loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
|The parliamentary polls came as US combat missions came to an end in Iraq [GALLO/GETTY]
The so-called Sadrists contested the elections in an alliance with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Ammar al-Hakim, another Shia party that came third at the polls.
The newly formed alliance came ahead of Jalal Talabani, the president, reappointing al-Maliki as prime minister in November.
However, the event was marred by a walkout by al-Iraqiyya, the main Sunni-backed alliance led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi.
The party claimed that al-Maliki had reneged on an agreement to reinstate four Sunni leaders who had been banned for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
In November, an agreement was reached on a government of unity that included posts for Allawi's party and drew the support of the Kurds.
The agreement gave al-Iraqiyya, the position of speaker of the parliament as well as leadership of a newly created committee overseeing national security.
The creation of the committee was a compromise pushed by the Obama administration to ensure the participation of Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the Iraqi government since 2003.
The Kurds, who played the role of kingmaker in the final talks, as their seats in parliament were needed to create a majority, held on to the presidency, which resulted in the reappointment of Talabani.
On December 21, parliament gave unanimous approval to the new government, just days before a constitutional deadline, thereby formally returning al-Maliki to power for a second term.
Iraq in 2010, is perhaps the stablest it has been since the U.S occupation began. And although the various poltical groups have been able to work out how they will share power in the government, their is no certainty as to what the future may hold.
Will Iraqis finally be in a position to rebuild their country and society, or will the country sink back into chaos?