Key political players in Iraq's election:
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.
ABDEL-AZIZ AL-HAKIM: Shiite cleric and leader of the key Shiite political organization, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Opposed Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran before returning after the U.S.-led invasion and serving on the Iraq Governing Council. He and al-Sistani lead the United Iraqi Alliance, which is widely expected to dominate the election.
AYAD ALLAWI: Interim prime minister considered a moderate with a reputation for toughness in dealing with the multiple insurgencies gripping Iraq. The 60-year-old Shiite physician, who leads a group of candidates called The Iraqi List, spent three decades in exile and has a long history of working with the U.S. government. A former member of Saddam's Baath Party, his wealthy family was close to the royal family that ruled before Saddam took power.
IBRAHIM AL-JAAFARI: Interim vice president and the main spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, which waged a bloody campaign against Saddam's regime in the late 1970s. Saddam crushed the campaign in 1982 and Dawa based itself in Iran. The party is a member of the United Iraqi Alliance. Al-Jaafari, a Shiite who was born in 1947, is a general practitioner.
GHAZI AL-YAWER: Interim president, a largely ceremonial post. He is a prominent Sunni member of the Shammar tribe, which includes Shiite clans and is one of the largest tribes in the Persian Gulf region. A civil engineer born in Mosul, al-Yawer, 45, studied in Saudi Arabia and at Georgetown University in the United States. He heads the Iraqis Party.
ADNAN PACHACHI: Foreign minister in the government toppled by Saddam's Baath Party in a 1968 coup and a member of the post-U.S. invasion Iraqi National Council. Pachachi, 81, leads a group of candidates called the Assembly of Independent Democrats. A prominent secular Sunni, he is seen as a possible compromise figure to lead a 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 1957. 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, helped negotiate a short-lived autonomy agreement with Iraq's government in 1970 that ended nine years of fighting. He took over the party leadership when his father died in 1979 and has survived two assassination attempts.
AHMAD CHALABI: Secular Shiite banker and one-time Pentagon confidante who led the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella for groups that included Iraqi exiles, Kurds and Shiites. Chalabi, 58, who left Iraq as a teen, fell out of favor with Washington last year after claims he passed intelligence information to Iran. He is running with the United Iraqi Alliance.
HUSSAIN AL-SHAHRISTANI: One of six figures chosen by al-Sistani to draw up the United Iraqi Alliance's candidate list. 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, he worked for human rights organizations in Iran and London.
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.