Al-Maliki's party said it would form a government even if other blocs chose to boycott the parliamentary session [AFP]
Iraqi politicians have broken an eight-month political impasse by agreeing to take part in a new unity government headed by the incumbent prime minister.
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition, which had been opposing Nouri al-Maliki, has decided to join his government.
Iraqiya joins the Kurdish alliance in supporting another four-year term for al-Maliki following months of contentious negotiations.
"This is a great victory for Iraqi people, which came at a late stage," Massoud Barzani, president of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, said after brokering the unity deal.
Jalal Talabani of the Kurdish alliance will remain president, and Iraqiya's Iyad Allawi is expected to lead a newly created council with authority over security.
Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Baghdad, said the strategic council is intended to serve as a check on the prime minister's power.
"Al-Maliki emerged as a clear winner ... But it's not entirely bad news for the Sunnis," Rageh said.
Iraqiya has nominated Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni leader, as the speaker of parliament, an Iraqiya spokesman told Al Jazeera.
"Finally, fortunately, it's done. It's finished. All the groups are in it,'' Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish politician who took part in the nearly seven hours of negotiations on Wednesday, said.
Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman and member of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, said Iraqiya had decided after extensive talks to accept the parliament speaker's job and cede al-Maliki the prime minister's job.
The political meeting on Thursday is just the second parliamentary meet since an inconclusive election on March 7.
Iraq has been without a government since that vote, which gave Iraqiya two more seats than al-Maliki's bloc. Neither had enough for a majority in parliament, forcing the factions to negotiate a government.
Over the past months, Iraqiya had repeatedly rejected another al-Maliki term and demanded the right to form the government as the top vote winner in the election.
Politicians from al-Maliki's National Alliance said they would proceed with government formation as
long as they had a political majority - even if other blocs chose to boycott Thursday's parliamentary session.
"We do not imagine a government that does not represent all Iraq's factions ... But the government does not and will not stop, God forbid, if a list stays behind," Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a senior member of the National Alliance, said.
Parliament met briefly in June, but politicians said they needed more time to decide who would hold the highest offices.
Last month, Iraq's high court ordered parliament to resume its sessions, putting pressure on politicians to expedite a deal.
The long deadlock has fuelled tension - even as sectarian violence that came after the 2003 US-led invasion has been receding - while US forces prepare to withdraw in 2011.
A series of attacks on Christian targets across Baghdad on Wednesday stirred renewed fear in the minority community.
The bomb and mortar blasts occurred just 10 days after a bloody siege at a Catholic cathedral in the capital that killed 52 people.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies