It was stunning victory for the Shiite Islamist, who was plucked from obscurity four years ago to become prime minister during the worst of Iraq’s sectarian violence, and a success for Iran. But it was a strategic defeat for Washington, which had pressed for a prominent role for Maliki’s rival, and appeared to be caught flatfooted by the rapid developments.

Maliki has mastered Iraq’s levers of power in Iraq to become a figure admired and feared by supporters and opponents alike. Wednesday’s marathon meeting, which started around 4 p.m. and lasted almost seven hours, fitted the Maliki mold…

Instead, the alliance of Maliki and the incumbent president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, triumphed. It creates a scenario where a Shiite religious party and a Kurdish leader hold the main posts in Baghdad, and Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority is once more relegated to a secondary role, not unlike that under the polarized government Maliki took control of four years ago.

“If things actually happen as just announced, it would indeed appear to be a victory for Maliki and for Iran, which pushed this scenario forward,” said Iraq expert Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group think tank.