Business has never been so good for Iraq's printers in the run-up to the March 7 election [AFP]

On March 7, Iraq will hold national parliamentary elections in what is believed to be a critical stage in the country's political development since the US-led invasion in 2003. 

Iraq previously held national assembly elections in January 2005, and parliamentary elections in December of the same year.

Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the 2005 elections, are expected to make a strong showing.

Below is a timeline of key political events that have shaped the Iraqi political process since US-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003.

2003

April 9: US forces enter Baghdad. Saddam is removed from power.

April 21: The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), a post-war civil administration headed by Jay Garner, a retired US general, comes into effect. He is later replaced by Paul Bremer.

April 27: The CPA orders the disbanding of the Iraqi army.

May 23:  Bremer, the US administrator, outlaws Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and dissolves the Iraqi military and intelligence services.

June: Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric, formalises the Mahdi Army, one of the main militias that would later combat coalition forces in Iraq.

July 13: The US appoints the Interim Governing Council (IGC), which convenes for the first time.

July 30: The IGC names its first president, Ibrahim Jaafari.

2004

March 1: Iraqi political factions agree on an interim governing constitution to come into effect when the US hands over sovereignty in the summer of 2004.

March 8:  The interim governing constitution, called the "Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period" is signed by the IGC and goes into effect three months later with the official transfer of power to the sovereign Iraqi government.

May 20: Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time Pentagon favourite and a prime instigator of the Iraq invasion, has his Baghdad offices raided by US forces. This marks a turning point in relations.

June 28: In a surprise move two days ahead of schedule, the US hands over sovereignty to the interim government, headed by Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister. The CPA and IGC are dissolved.

July 8: The Iraqi interim government says it will conduct a national census in October, a step required for elections in January. The International Monetary Fund recognises the Iraqi interim government and immediately offers up to $100 million in loans.

November 9: Iraq's most prominent Sunni party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, says it is withdrawing from the interim government. The Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of respected Sunni clerics, calls for a boycott of coming elections.

In Baghdad, fighters seize three of Allawi's relatives.

December 9: Twenty-three Shia political groups form the United Iraqi Alliance in preparation for the elections.

December 27: Iraq's largest mainstream Sunni Muslim Iraqi Islamic Party pulls out of the election race, complaining that the violence plaguing areas north and west of Baghdad makes a free and fair vote on January 30 impossible.

2005 

Iyad Allawi lost his position as prime minister in the 2005 elections [AL JAZEERA]

January 30: Up to eight million people vote in elections for a Transitional National Assembly, touted as the first free democratic elections since the removal of Saddam. 

The Shia United Iraqi Alliance wins a majority of assembly seats; Kurdish parties come second and the Sunni population largely boycotts.

April 6: The Iraqi National Assembly elects Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president, and he is sworn in the next day. Ibrahim Jaafari, a Shia, is appointed as the prime minister.

May 3: The Iraqi Interim Government is replaced by the Transitional Government.

June 9: Massoud Barzani is sworn in as the regional president of Iraqi Kurdistan, an important consolation for the Kurdish minority.

August 28: After weeks of haggling, a new constitution is endorsed by Shia and Kurdish negotiators, but not by the Sunni representatives. Thousands of Sunnis across Iraq stage protests rejecting the constitution.

October 25: At least 80 per cent of the electorate votes in a referendum to approve a new constitution.

Iraq is designated a federal democracy. The referundum almost fails when two key Sunni provinces reject the constitution document. However, it succeeds as a third province barely passes it.

December 15: Iraqis head to the polls to elect a new parliament. The Shia political bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, wins almost half of the parliamentary seats.

2006

February 10: The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq certifies the elections despite allegations of vote-rigging

March 16: The Iraqi National Assembly's first official meeting is convened, which is largely uneventful and mainly witnessed the swearing-in of new assembly members.

April 22: Ending four months of political deadlock, newly re-elected President Jalal Talabani asks Nuri al-Maliki, the Shia compromise candidate for prime minister, to form a new government.

May 20: The Iraqi Transitional Government is replaced by the first permanent government.

2007

The Iraqi Accordance Front, a mostly Sunni bloc, pulled out of the cabinet in 2007 [EPA]

April 16: The political movement led by al-Sadr pulls out of the Iraqi government to protest against the continuing US presence in the country. The Sadrists would remain in parliament, however.

August 1: The main Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), withdraws from al-Maliki's cabinet over a dispute in power-sharing.

August 16: Al-Maliki's government is supported by a new alliance of Kurdish and Shia leaders but fails to draw any support from Sunni leaders.

September 14: The White House delivers a report to the US congress saying that Iraqi leaders have failed to meet half of their key military and political goals, concluding that the Iraqi government had made satisfactory progress on nine out of 18 political and security benchmarks.

2008

January 13: A law allowing members of the late Saddam Hussein's Baathist party to return to government jobs is passed.

April 7: Al-Maliki says Sadrists will be barred from taking part in the political process unless they disband the Mahdi Army militia.

June 13: Al-Sadr announces the break-up of the Mahdi Army into a cultural, political and religious organisation called the Momahidoun.

July 18: Kuwait names Ali al-Momen, a former military chief of staff, as the country's ambassador to Iraq, the first since the beginning of the Gulf war in 1991.

November 17: Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, announces that the cabinet has agreed to hold provincial elections on January 31, 2009.

November 27: Iraq's parliament approves a security pact allowing US troops to stay in Iraq for three more years. Under the deal, US forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 and leave the entire country by January 1, 2012.

December 23:  Mahmud al-Mashhadani, the Iraqi parliament speaker, resigns.

December 31: UN Security Council Resolution 1790, which extends the mandate on the multinational force in Iraq, expires.

2009

January 14: The Iraqi Accordance Front, the major Sunni bloc, boycotts the parliament alleging that holding sessions is unconstitutional since the Parliament speaker has not been elected yet.

January 16: A Shia candidate for provincial elections is assassinated while campaigning south of Baghdad, highlighting fears that political rivalries will lead to a spike in violence ahead of the January 31 vote for local councils.

January 28: Iraq begins holding early voting for jailed prisoners and hospital patients.

January 29: Three candidates for provincial council seats are killed.

January 31: Iraq holds provincial elections - the nation's first polls since 2005.

With UN assistance, elections are held in 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces, with about 15 million citizens eligible to vote.

April 19: The Iraqi parliament elects Ayad al-Samarrai of the Sunni Arab Alliance as speaker after gaining 154 votes in a secret ballot. He replaces Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, the former speaker, who resigned in December 2008 from the post which is reserved for Sunni Arabs by agreement among political leaders.

July 25: The autonomous region of Kurdistan holds its first major legislative and presidential elections since 2005. Masoud Barzani of the Kurdish Democratic Party is re-elected in the presidential election.

October 1: Al-Maliki announces the formation of a new political grouping of 40 parties, called the State of Law, after a split in the broad Shia United Iraqi Alliance that won the 2005 elections.

December 7: Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq's vice president, withdraws his veto to the new election law after parliament unanimously approves an amendment to protect the rights of the Sunni Muslim and other minorities.

2010

January 15: Iraq's independent electoral commission bans at least 500 Sunni candidates from running in March's scheduled parliamentary polls because of having alleged links to Saddam Hussein's banned Ba'ath party.

February 3: An Iraqi appeals court consisting of seven judges postpones all the disqualifications, saying there was not enough time to review the evidence against the candidates.

February 5: A court hearing resumes the appeals as Maliki denounces the appeals court's initial ruling after meeting senior parliament leaders.

The court then reversed the disqualification of 26 candidates and another 145 were rejected. The rest of the initial 515 did not appeal or were replaced by their parties with other candidates.

February 12: Omar al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq,  releases an audio recording in which he threatens to foil the elections, saying: "Sunni participation in this election will certainly lead to the establishment of the principle that Sunnis in Iraq are a minority who have to be ruled by the rejectionists."

The term "rejectionists" refers to the country's majority Shias, which al-Qaeda in Iraq sees as heretical.

February 13: Iraqiya, a secular Iraqi political coalition, suspends its election campaign over the ban of some of its candidates.

A string of attacks across Baghdad targets Sunni scholars and their political offices, including Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni politician and co-founder of the Iraqiya list, who was among those banned from the election.

February 14:  Iraq's electoral commission announces that at least 95,000 observers from civil society organisations and different political blocs are registered to monitor Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections.

February 27: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest Shia religious authority, has called on his fellow clerics to stay neutral in the March 7 parliamentary election and refrain from backing candidates.

Source: Al Jazeera