Caving in to relentless pressure at home and abroad to step aside, Nuri al-Maliki dropped his bid for a third term as prime minister of Iraq on Thursday and pledged support for his replacement, moderate Shi'ite Haider al-Abadi.
Appearing on state television flanked by Abadi and other Shi'ite politicians, a grim-faced Maliki spoke of the grave "terrorist" threat from Sunni Islamic State militants before giving up his fight to stay on.
"I announce before you today, to ease the movement of the political process and the formation of the new government, the withdrawal of my candidacy in favor of brother Dr. Haider al-Abadi," said Maliki.
Read MoreWhat's the Iraqi end game?
Abadi is seen as a far less polarising figure who has a chance of uniting Iraqis against Sunni insurgents who have captured large parts of the country in the north and west - including Iraq's largest dam and five oil fields.
The announcement is likely to please the Sunni minority, which dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein's iron-fisted rule but was then sidelined by the Shi'ite Maliki, a relative unknown when he came to power in 2006 with strong U.S. backing.