Iraqis will vote for candidate lists, rather than individuals, and more than 100 political “entities” have submitted candidate lists.

The entities include nine coalitions of political parties and 74 individual parties. Most parties reflect sectarian and ethnic divides.

Shiite Muslims, the long-oppressed 60-percent majority, are likely to back Shiite parties, some overtly religious, others secular. Kurds, accounting for 10 to 15 percent of Iraqis, mostly back one of two big Kurdish parties. Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of the population, dominated Saddam's and earlier administrations.

Parties or groups with militias cannot run for election; nor can former senior Baathists or current members of the armed forces.

Political entities can form coalitions and alliances for the elections. A party that joins a coalition cannot submit a separate list of candidates in the same election. Notably, political entities are not required to establish a national presence to compete.

Among the key Iraqi parties:

UNITED IRAQI ALLIANCE: Shiite parties presented a list of 228 candidates in November 2004. The announcement of the list of 23 parties, dubbed the United Iraqi Alliance, followed weeks of haggling. Members of participating groups said the coalition's platform would include a call for working toward the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq.

The list includes two powerful Shiite parties, as well as an array of independent Sunni tribal figures, Shiite Kurdish groups and members of smaller movements. The roster does not include the movement of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who appeared to be waiting to see whether the vote will be considered legitimate before he joins the political process.

Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appointed the committee that set up the 228-candidate list. He has been working to unite Iraq's majority Shiites ahead of the vote to ensure victory, and include representatives from Iraq's other diverse communities.

The major Shiite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Dawa Party, were on the list. Both have strong links with Iran, a Shiite but non-Arab neighbor.

The 228 candidates also include independent Sunni Muslims, members of the Yazidis minority religious sect, and a Turkomen movement, among others.

Also listed are members of the Iraqi National Congress, led by former exile and onetime Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi.

IRAQI LIST: This secular slate is led by the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and is the chief rival of the United Iraqi Alliance. Allawi, a secular Shiite, chose prominent Cabinet members, technocrats and some token clerics as running mates. Allawi's high name recognition and incumbency give the list a boost, though candidates are widely viewed as backed by U.S. funding and advisers.

IRAQIS PARTY LIST: The list led by interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar hasn't run a notable campaign, but it represents the strongest ticket led by Sunnis, who are expected to stay away from the polls in high numbers. Yawar has been a figurehead president, overshadowed by Allawi, and his list isn't seen as particularly organized or powerful. The list includes several influential tribal leaders and some Cabinet members.

KURDISH ALLIANCE LIST: This list includes Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — the two leading Kurdish parties that have shared power in the semi-autonomous Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. The list also includes several smaller Kurdish parties. The main campaign issues for this list is to consolidate the autonomy from Baghdad, especially through the new constitution the Iraqi assembly will draft. Kurds make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s population, so this alliance is expected to win a substantial number of seats.

PEOPLE'S UNION: This list of 275 candidates includes the Iraqi Communist Party, led by Hamid Majid Moussa, and several independents. The Iraqi Communist Party is Iraq's oldest and perhaps most organized political party. These leftists, mostly prominent Iraqi intellectuals, staunchly opposed the war and occupation and are now running one of the only campaigns free of ethnic or religious groupings. They're likely to fare well with exile voters, but are seen as overshadowed by religious candidates in Iraq.

ASSEMBLY OF INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATS: This list is led by Adnan Pachachi, considered the Sunni Muslim elder statesman of Iraqi politics. He served as Iraq's foreign minister until the Baathists seized power in 1968. Some critics feel his age (he's in his 80s) leaves him out of touch, and he's also lost supporters who feel he should've joined other influential Sunnis in withdrawing from the elections to protest U.S. military actions in Sunni territories.

IRAQI DEMOCRATIC GATHERING: Led by Mishaan Jibouri, this party is linked to one of the largest and most powerful Sunni Muslim tribes in Iraq — the Jibouri tribe. The party wants an end to U.S. occupation and the return of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to government.

INDEPENDENT NATIONALIST ELITES AND CADRES: A 180-candidate list representing the Shias of Sadr City — the impoverished Baghdad suburb dominated by followers of the rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is led by Fattahlah Ghazi al-Esmaili, a close associate of Sadr.

CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY: A moderate Sunni-dominated group seeking the restoration of a constitutional monarchy. Its 275-candidate list is headed by Sharif Ali Bin Hussein, a cousin of Iraq’s last king.

THE CHRISTIAN LISTS: These have split into two — The National Rafidayn List and the Two Rivers Coalition — because of a dispute over the order of candidates appearing on the list. But their manifesto is essentially the same, focusing on safeguarding the rights of minorities, including the Chaldeans and Assyrians. Their campaign has also underlined the importance of teaching the Assyrian language, which is spoken by about 1 million Iraqi Christians living in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk.

(Sources: FinancialTimes.com: Guide to Iraq’s main political groupings; Knight Ridder: A primer on the main issues surrounding Iraq's election; Reuters; U.N. Information Center: Iraq: Elections Fact Sheet, Oct. 26, 2004; Associated Press: Shiites Present Candidates for Jan. Vote, Dec. 9, 2004.)