Advisers and politicians who've watched Nouri al-Maliki over the years say one characteristic explains the strengths and weaknesses of the 56-year-old Iraqi prime minister: He's always been in opposition.
Al-Maliki was born in Twayrig, a small village between Hilla and Karbala in Iraq's mostly Shiite Muslim south. His grandfather, Mohammed Hassan Abu al Mahasin, fought the British in the 1920 revolution, then served as the minister of education under Iraq's king.
Maliki studied religion at Baghdad University and has a master's degree in Arabic literature from Salahaddin University in Irbil. He joined the opposition Dawa Party in 1970, then fled to Iran and on to Syria when Saddam Hussein's Sunni Muslim regime sentenced all Dawa members and supporters to death. Sixty-five members of al-Maliki's family were killed, including, al-Maliki aide Hassan Sneid said, all his brothers and sisters.
Al-Maliki returned to Iraq shortly after Saddam was toppled in 2003 and became active in the purge of members of Saddam's Baath party from the government, an effort that Sunnis interpreted as a ploy to disenfranchise them. Al-Maliki also served on a committee that wrote the country's constitution, which passed despite Sunni opposition. He was sworn in as prime minister last May 20.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.