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Guide to groups competing in Iraqi polls

A multitude of political groups and alliances were vying for the attention of Iraqi voters ahead of the parliamentary elections on 7 March.

Here are some of the main alliances and blocs.

STATE OF LAW COALITION

Iraqi premier Nouri Maliki
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has risen in stature since first taking office

This alliance is led by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and purportedly cuts across religious and tribal lines.

It includes Mr Maliki's Shia Islamist Dawa [Call] Party as well as some Sunni tribal leaders, Shia Kurds, Christians and independents. Mr Maliki has said the alliance strives for an Iraq built on nationalist principles.

Some analysts have suggested the variety of groups in the alliance represents a break from sectarian politics. However, the core of the coalition remains Shia, and although Mr Maliki and his allies were the main winners of the 2009 provincial elections, they performed poorly outside Shia-majority areas.

Its hopes of capitalising on improving security have been undermined by a series of high-profile attacks on government targets in Baghdad.

IRAQI NATIONAL ALLIANCE (INA)

Muqtada al-Sadr
Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was an ally of the prime minister

This mainly Shia alliance is seen as one of the biggest rivals to the prime minister's coalition.

It brings together the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council (IISC), followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the Basra-based Fadilah party, a few Sunni leaders, former prime minister Ibrahim Ja'fari, and Ahmad Chalabi - the former exile who played a key role before the 2003 US invasion.

The IISC and the Sadrists are considered to have lost ground since holding sway over the Shia electorate only a few years ago.

The INA is considered by some to be a successor to the United Iraqi Alliance - which almost won a majority in the December 2005 elections.

The IISC and the Sadrists are hoping to recapture some of the Shia vote they lost to Mr Maliki last year.

There has been speculation that the INA could form a post-election coalition with Maliki's group if neither wins enough seats to form a government on its own.

KURDISTAN ALLIANCE

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani
President Jalal Talabani has a long history in Kurdish politics

The Kurdish coalition is dominated by the two parties administering Iraq's northern, semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party led by the region's president, Masood Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Iraq's national president, Jalal Talabani, are both secular in nature and enjoy close ties with the West.

The two parties faced a major challenge in Kurdistan's parliamentary vote this year from the Reform (Change) bloc, which won about a quarter of the seats and which will run on its own in March.

The Kurds have played king-maker in Iraq since the 2003 invasion and will likely retain enough clout after the 7 March vote to be part of a ruling alliance with another faction.

AL-IRAQIYYA (IRAQI NATIONAL MOVEMENT)

Iyad Allawi
Ex-premier Iyad Allawi has done well in opinion polls

This alliance includes national Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia, and senior Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq. They ran on a nationalist platform.

While all of the major coalitions have adopted a rhetoric of ''national unity'', al-Iraqiyya, and Salih al-Mutlaq in particular, have a more consistent anti-sectarian perspective than most of their rivals.

But the alliance's plans have been complicated by moves by a panel to disqualify Mr Mutlaq and other al-Iraqiyya candidates from the election over alleged ties to the banned Baath party of the ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

UNITY OF IRAQ COALITION

Interior Minister Jawad Bolani
Interior Minister Jawad Bolani

This group brings together a range of significant political figures, including Interior Minister Jawad Bolani and a leader of the Sunni anti-al-Qaeda militia in al-Anbar province, Ahmad Abu-Risha.

Unity of Iraq has adopted a similar rhetoric to Mr Maliki's State of Law list, probably prompting suggestions that key figures in the list, such as Abu-Risha, appeared to have been seriously considering joining Mr Maliki.

Like al-Iraqiyya, the Unity of Iraq list was seriously affected by the ban on candidates with alleged Baathist links.

IRAQI ACCORD FRONT/AL-TAWAFUQ FRONT

Ayad al-Samarrai
Speaker al-Samarrai's bloc has been weakened by defections

The Iraqi Accord Front, an alliance of parties led by Sunni politicians, participated in the December 2005 elections but has since been weakened by splits and defections. It includes the Speaker of parliament Ayad al-Samarrai.

It consists of some tribal leaders and the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), which has increased its political visibility over recent years, enhancing its claim to represent Iraqi Sunnis at a national level.

TRIBAL LEADERS

Tribal leaders were courted by major parties as it was thought they would play an important role in the election. Some of Iraq's Sunni tribal leaders sprang to prominence when US forces began backing local sheikhs against al Qaeda in 2006.

While the tribal figures are looking to branch out into mainstream politics, they have not formed a united front and have mainly joined forces with existing blocs.

MINORITIES

Smaller minorities, including Turkmen, Christians, Yazidis, Sabeans, Shabak and others, were thought likely to ally with bigger electoral lists in areas where they were not dominant.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.



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