Baghdad: At the root of the stand-off is the unresolved power struggle between Iraq’s three main groups — the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds — following the removal of Saddam Hussain in the US-led invasion of 2003.

Elections in March 2010 were inconclusive. Iraq's Nouri Al Maliki was able to form a national unity government but its component parties do not trust and in some cases detest each other.

The continued impasse has raised the possibility of renewed sectarian violence and hampered plans for rebuilding the country ravaged by a decade of fighting.

Six months after the departure of the last US forces, hopes seem to be fading that oil-rich Iraq can quickly transform into a functioning democracy.