When the Iraqi president decided to replace Nouri al-Maliki with a new prime minister, his choice had the unlikely result of pleasing both the US and rival Middle East powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Tehran and Riyadh’s agreement on his removal and the appointment of prime minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi is testament to growing impatience among external influences on Al-Maliki’s handling of the country’s growing sectarian divides.

While the removal of Al-Maliki is a popular move, little is known about the intentions of his potential successor Al-Abadi, who now faces the tough task of forming a ruling from the victors of the April parliamentary elections.

A member of Al-Maliki’s Shia Islamic Dawa Party, Al-Abadi was appointed in July as deputy speaker of parliament.

His name was circulated as a potential prime ministerial candidate in both the 2006 and 2010 elections, while in the last two elections he was seen as an alternative prime ministerial candidate.

Al-Abadi was born in Baghdad in 1952 and attended the University of Baghdad before later receiving a master’s degree from the University of Manchester in the UK.

His family lived in exile in Britain during the rule of Saddam Hussein, with Al-Abadi working in the transportation sector in London from the late 1980s until relocating to Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.

That year he became communications minister in the Iraqi Governing Council and was a key adviser to Al-Maliki in the first post-invasion government.

As a staunch ally of Al-Maliki, the prime minister-designate has played a part in the policies that have led to marginalise Sunni and Kurdish populations from power in Baghdad.

It is not yet clear whether Al-Abadi will provide a clear enough break from his party’s sectarian policies of the past eight years to construct a unity government, boosting the influence of minority religious and ethnic groups.

Even larger is the challenge for Al-Abadi to handle the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) in northern and western Iraq, which has seen the Baghdad government lose control of vast swathes of the country.