Nouri or Nuri al Maliki is Iraq’s prime minister and the leader of the Shiite Islamic Al Dawa Party. The Bush administration considered Maliki an easily malleable political novice when the Iraqi parliament picked him to lead the country in April 2006. He’s proven anything but. Al Maliki is a shrewd quick study who’s managed to position his party at the heart of power nodes, defeating radical Shiites, keeping Sunnis subservient and outflanking American authority in Iraq. Should Iraqi democracy falter, Al Maliki-- impatient with dissent and instinctively repressive—has the makings of an authoritarian chief.