As of Jan. 21, 7,785 candidates representing 111 entities are on the ballot for the Iraqi National Assembly. Another approximate 11,215 candidates are running for provincial councils and the Kurdistan National Assembly.

Following are details about some of the key candidates:

ABDEL-AZIZ AL-HAKIM: A Shiite cleric who heads the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran before returning after last year's U.S.-led invasion. He was a member of the dissolved Iraq Governing Council and is allied to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's top Shiite cleric, who was instrumental in setting up the 228-member electoral coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance. Al-Hakim heads the coalition list, which is widely expected to dominate the polls.

AYAD ALLAWI: Prime Minister of Iraq's interim government, Allawi has a reputation of toughness in dealing with the multiple insurgencies that have gripped his nation. A former Iraqi exile with a long history of dealings with the United States, including the CIA, he leads the Iraqi coalition list. It is unclear how much public support the former surgeon enjoys domestically. The moderate Shiite Muslim is a former Baath Party member whose wealthy family was close to the royal family that ruled Iraq before Saddam Hussein took power.

IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI: A Shiite and the main spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party. The Dawa Party was previously based in Iran and launched a bloody campaign against Saddam's regime in the late 1970s. Saddam crushed the campaign in 1982. The party is a member of the United Iraqi Alliance coalition, and al-Jaafari — a former Governing Council member — is running on its list.

ADNAN PACHACHI: Foreign minister in the government toppled by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in 1968 and, after Saddam's fall, a member of the Governing Council, he now heads a new group called the Independent Democratic Gathering. Pachachi, 81, had urged that the ballot be delayed three months to give Sunni political and religious leaders a chance to abandon their boycott call. A prominent secular Sunni, he was pushed aside as a possible interim president in favor of Ghazi al-Yawer when sovereignty was handed over in June, but he is still seen by some as a possible compromise figure to lead a future government.

AHMAD CHALABI: A secular Shiite and one-time Pentagon confidant who led the Iraqi National Congress, a major umbrella organization of numerous disparate groups, including Iraqi exiles, Kurds and Shiites. A 58-year-old former banker who left Iraq as a teenager, Chalabi fell out with Washington this year after claims he had passed on intelligence to Iran. Chalabi, who was convicted in absentia of fraud in a banking scandal in Jordan in 1989, is running on the United Iraqi Alliance list.

HUSSAIN AL-SHAHRISTANI: One of six figures chosen by al-Sistani to draw up the United Iraqi Alliance list of candidates, al-Shahristani is a nuclear scientist whose refusal to work in Saddam's nuclear program led to his 1979 jailing. He escaped in 1991. Educated and married in Canada, al-Shahristani worked for human rights organizations in Iran and London. After Saddam was toppled, al-Shahristani's reputation for being nonpolitical saw his name floated as a possible interim prime minister, but the job went to Allawi instead.

Players in the Political Process

GRAND AYATOLLAH ALI AL-SISTANI: Although not running for election, Iraq's top Shiite cleric has issued an edict describing voting as a "religious duty." Al-Sistani, 75, has great influence in the majority Shiite community and has opposed anti-American violence. With the loyalty of most Shiite clerics and many tribal leaders, the Iranian-born grand ayatollah has used his popularity to sway the political process toward assuring Shiite domination of the future government.

NASEER KAMEL AL-CHADERCHI: Sunni lawyer, businessman and landowner who leads the National Democratic Party. A member of the former Iraqi Governing Council, he is the son of Kamel al-Chaderchi, who played a leading role in Iraq's democratic development until 1968, when the Baath Party seized power.

JALAL TALABANI: Sunni Kurd and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two key northern Kurdish parties. Born in 1934, he joined the Kurdistan Democratic Party as a teenager and then founded the PUK in 1975. He and KDP leader Massoud Barzani are running for office in a joint group of candidates, the Kurdish Alliance List.

MASSOUD BARZANI: Sunni Kurd and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, founded in 1946 by his father. Barzani, 56, took over the party leadership when his father, Mustafa, died in 1979. His father, who survived two assassination attempts, helped negotiate a short-lived autonomy agreement with Iraq's government in 1970 that ended nine years of fighting.

ADIL ABDUL-MAHDI: Iraq's current minister of finance and a leading politician in the powerful Shiite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Born in 1942, he is the French-educated son of a respected Shiite cleric who was a Cabinet minister in Iraq's monarchy. Running with United Iraqi Alliance.

HAMID MAJID MOUSSA: Economist, leader of the Iraqi Communist Party since 1993 and a member of the former Iraqi Governing Council. A Shiite, Moussa left Iraq in 1978 and returned in 1983 to continue his political activities against Saddam's regime. Draws support from urban Shiites and Kurds.

HAZEM SHAALAN: Defense minister, Sheikh of the Ghazal tribe, Shaalan has a business background. After graduating in economics and management from Baghdad University, he managed the Kut and Diwaniyah branches of the Iraqi Real Estate Bank, later serving as inspector general of the main branch in Baghdad until 1985, when he was forced into exile in the UK. After his return to Iraq in 2003, he became governor of the central Iraqi province of Diwaniyah.

THAMIR ABBAS GHADBAN: Oil minister and a geology graduate from University College in London, with a master's degree in petroleum engineering from London's Imperial College, Ghadban worked for Iraq's oil ministry for 31 years before he was detained and demoted for supporting democratic reforms.

SALAMA AL-KHAFAJI: One of three women on the Governing Council. A former professor of dentistry at Baghdad University, she replaced another Shia woman member, Aquila al-Hashemi, who was killed in September 2003 during an ambush near her Baghdad home. Khafaji has been involved in attempting to negotiate an end to the standoff in Najaf between the rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the U.S.-led coalition authorities. She narrowly escaped with her life after her convoy came under attack on its return to Baghdad from Najaf on May 28, 2004. Her son was killed in the attack.

MOQTADA AL-SADR: Leader of a radical Shia faction in Najaf and son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by the government of Saddam Hussein in 1999. Moqtada al-Sadr adopted a policy of political activism after the end of the war, dismissing the traditional Shia clergy as too quietist. His group's spiritual guide is Ayatollah Qadhim al-Hairi, who is based in Iran and is reported to have issued a fatwa, or religious edict, declaring it lawful for Muslims to kill senior officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath party who dared to return to work.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Sadr’s group, starting from its stronghold in the poor Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, occupied hospitals in Baghdad and filled them with armed guards, ostensibly to protect the buildings from lawlessness. His armed militia, known as the Mehdi army, subsequently turned to open rebellion, taking control of the key Shia cities of Kerbala, Najaf and Kufa. The rebellion was finally put down after heavy fighting and after the intervention of Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

JOHN NEGROPONTE: U.S. ambassador to Iraq since May 2004. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the push for a unified invasion of Iraq in late 2001 and early 2002, and before that served as an ambassador to several Central American countries.

ROWSCH SHAWAYS: Kurd who holds one of two vice president spots. Parliament speaker in the Kurdish autonomous region in Irbil. A member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of two rival parties running northern Iraq. Will keep his post unless removed.

CARLOS VALENZUELA: Head of the U.N. team providing technical assistance to the Independent Electoral Commission, which is in charge of organizing the elections.

(Sources: "A Look at Leading Iraq Candidates," AP, Dec. 15, 2004; Iraqi Elections: January 30, 2005, State Department fact sheet, Jan. 25, 2005; Defense Department: Iraq Weekly Status Report; Jan. 19, 2005; AP: "Key political players in Iraq's election," AP, Jan. 25, 2005; FinancialTimes.com: Who's who in postwar Iraq.)