|Jalal Talabani, Iraq's first non-Arab president, is head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [GETTY]
The coalition list which won the 2005 elections is the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Comprising mainly religious Shia parties, it was formed with the blessing of Iraq's most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani.
At the time, it consisted of 18 conservative Shia Islamist groups, although it continued to be dominated by just three: the Islamic Dawa Party, led by Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister; the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim; and the Iraqi nationalist Sadr movement, loyal to populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Politically, the coalition's platform was based on the principles of security, sovereignty and reconstruction; it promised to crack down on the insurgency and corruption.
But by 2006, the coalition was heavily criticised for failing to tackle both issues during its first year in power.
|Maliki split from the UIA and formed the State of Law coalition in early 2009 [GETTY]
In early 2009, the UIA split into the State of Law Coalition, headed by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), led by Ammar Hakim. The parties are running as opposing coalitions, marking the first time since 2005 that the Shia community has split in two.
The State of Law Coalition includes Maliki's Dawa party, the Anbar Salvation Front (an Awakening council party), and other smaller parties led by former MPs.
The official website of the State of Law reads that the list's objective is "the strength to build and improve services". It lists a number of achievements like the construction of 1300 healthcare centres, 12 hospitals and 8 universities.
The site also promotes reduction in officials salaries, end of quota system and battle against corruption.
Al-Maliki's electoral campaign slogans stress security, national reconciliation and reconstruction.
Al-Maliki and his supporters say the government has achieved considerable part of those objectives, but al-Maliki opponents say he dedicated his years in office merely to securing a second term for himself as prime minister.
INA, a mostly Shia coalition, includes Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (formerly SCIRI), Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, the Badr Organisation, the Sadrists, breakaway Dawa party members led by former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Islamic Virtue Party (Fadhilah), the Shia Turkmen Movement, and other parties.
The INA hopes to give Maliki the biggest run for his money and recapture some of the Shia vote it lost to him in the January 2009 provincial elections. There is also speculation that the INA could form a post-election coalition with al-Maliki's group if neither wins enough seats to form a government on its own - a very likely outcome.
Nationalists, but secular?
|Saleh al-Mutlaq was barred from running in the March 7 parliamentary elections [AFP]
One of the strongest contenders this year is the Iraqiya coalition, led by Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister in the post-Saddam government. A secular Shia, Allawi is hoping to capitalise on Iraqis dissatisfaction with the religious parties that have since dominated Iraq.
Eloquent in English, and a recipient of a medical degree in neurology from the UK, Allawi has long held that the current Iraqi government has failed to reconcile sectarian differences in the country.
Among Iraqiya's chief campaign slogans is its strong opposition to regional interference in Iraqi affairs, a veiled reference to Iran, which is seen to strongly back both the State of Law and NIA coalitions.
Iraqiya includes Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, and other mostly smaller Sunni parties. Allawi is joined in the coalition by Tareq al-Hashemi, the current vice-president and the highest-ranking Sunni in office. He is also known to be a vocal critic of the Maliki government.
The coalition received a blow in January when several of its most prominent members - including Sunni politicians Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani - were banned from running for alleged ties to the former Baathist government.
Despite the ban, Iraqiya is expected to do well in the elections.
|Barzani has chaired the Kurdish Regional government since 2005 [REUTERS]
The Kurdish Alliance (KA) consists of eight groups but is dominated by the two main parties in the Kurdish north - the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), headed by Iraq's current president, Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Massoud Barzani, the president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish zone, also known as the Kurdish Regional Government.
The list won 75 seats in the January 2005 elections, making it the second most powerful political bloc. It was allied to the United Iraqi Alliance in government until the Shia bloc split into two parties. Since tensions over federalism, oil revenue and disputed territories came to the fore, the KA's relationship with the Shia parties has been testy.
The KA's top priority is finding a solution for Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city that sits atop vast oil reserves and which is claimed by Kurds, Turkish-speaking ethnic Turkmen and Arabs. They also vow to expand the Kurdish region's borders to include towns with historic Kurdish links.
Since the end of the 1991 Gulf War the political landscape had largely been dominated solely between the KDP and the PUK.
But a new party has emerged to challenge their rule.
Change in Kurdistan?
The Gorran Coalition (or movement for change), a self-proclaimed harbinger of reform comprised mostly of former PUK party members, entered the political arena in late 2006.
Chaired by Nawshirwan Mostafa, it first made in-roads during the Kurdish region's provincial elections in July 2009 when it won over voters seeking a multi-party system.
On July 25, nearly 2.5 million registered voters in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region voted in presidential and parliamentary elections for their provinces only.
The participation of more than 20 political groupings in that election race marked the beginning of a potential multi-party system and power-sharing mechanism in government.
For the first time since 2003, Kurdish parties will not be running as a unified coalition in the March 7 parliamentary elections.