Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. Image Credit: AP

Nouri Al Maliki – Dawa Party

The current prime minister is contesting the upcoming election at the head of the State of Law coalition. While his Dawa party has Islamist roots, Al Maliki has rebranded himself as a secular nationalist campaigning on a platform that seeks credit for increased security in Iraq, calls for improved public services and promotes a vision of a strong unified Iraq. The coalition he is leading into the national election is similar in nature to one that performed strongly, especially in the Shiite south, in provincial elections in January 2009. The last months of Al Maliki's tenure has seen a flurry of multi-billion dollar deals with global oil majors, a move analysts say is meant to tell voters that he also intends to promote prosperity. But a string of high-profile assaults by suicide bombers on Baghdad and bomb attacks on Shiites has dented Al Maliki's security credentials. He also failed to forge as broad a cross-sectarian alliance for the national vote as he had hoped, and Al Maliki looks weaker than he did a year ago. Al Maliki is regarded as sincere and honest by supporters. He is also viewed as quick to anger and divisive. He has managed to turn many former allies into foes - and critics question his willingness to seek reconciliation with once dominant Sunnis.

Bayan Jabor - Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI)

A prominent leader in the the ISCI, one of Al Maliki's main Shiite partners-turned-rivals in the election. Jabor has been the finance minister in Al Maliki's government. He was the interior minister under the previous government of Ebrahim Al Jaafari, when death squads ran riot in the Interior Ministry. The chaos that governed the ministry did not reflect well on Jabor. An engineer by training, Jabor has kept somewhat to the background as finance minister. His discourse comes across as more practical than political.

Eyad Allawi - Iraqiya 

A secular Shiite, Allawi was prime minister in the Iraqi Interim Government from 2004 to 2005. His political bloc, the Iraqi National List, has fractured but he formed a new alliance, under the Iraqiya banner, with prominent Sunni politician Saleh Al Mutlaq and Iraq's Sunni Vice-President Tarek Al Hashemi. That cross-confessional alliance has been dealt a blow by an independent panel's decision to ban Al Mutlaq from the election for alleged links to Saddam Hussain's Baath party, and his decision to boycott polls. A doctor by training, Allawi has become a leading critic of Maliki's government and of the US invasion. Once also highly critical of Iranian meddling in Iraq, and in particular of Tehran's support for Shiite militia, Allawi is reported to have since sought to mend fences.

Ebrahim Al Jaafari - Iraqi National Alliance

A Shiite politician, Al Jaafari was prime minister in the Iraqi Transitional Government between 2005 and 2006. Al Jaafari was the head of Al Maliki's Dawa party but left it amid disagreement. He has joined the Iraqi National Alliance headed by ISCI. He is also a doctor by training.

Adel Abdul Mahdi – ISCI

 A senior leader in ISCI, and member of a family that has been involved in politics since the days of the Iraqi monarchy, Abdul Mahdi was a member of the Baath party before Saddam seized power, then became a prominent Marxist and ultimately an Islamist. He is currently one of the country's two vice presidents after being finance minister under Allawi. He is viewed as friendly toward foreign investment and business.

Ahmad Chalabi - Iraqi National Alliance

A secular Shiite, Chalabi rose to prominence as leader of the then-exiled Iraqi National Congress which played a major role in encouraging the US administration of former President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and oust Saddam. Once viewed in Washington as its preferred future Iraqi leader, he lost favour among his American benefactors amid accusations that he had passed information to arch-foe Iran. Chalabi does not have a significant popular political base of his own but joined the Iraqi National Alliance led by ISCI.

Jawad Al Bolani - Iraq's Unity

Currently interior minister, Al Bolani is believed to have irritated others in the government, especially Al Maliki, when he formed the Constitution Party ahead of the January 2009 provincial election. The party did not perform strongly and Al Bolani had been expected by many to link up with Al Maliki for the national election. Instead he has formed an alliance with Ahmad Abu Risha, a prominent leader of anti-Al Qaida tribal sheikhs, and Ahmad Abdul Gafour Al Samarrai of the Sunni Endowment, a government body that supervises Sunni mosques and properties. Their list is called Iraq's Unity. Al Bolani was an army officer under Saddam.

Qassam Daoud – ISCI

A liberal Shiite politician, Daoud was a member of Allawi's Iraqiya list and minister of national security under Allawi. He left to join the Shiite alliance backing Al Maliki's government and has signed up with the ISCI- and Sadrist-led INA for the coming election.

Ra'ad Mawlude Mukhlis - Iraq's Unity

Son of a family of prominent Sunni politicians based in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, Mukhlis is not particularly well-known. He has joined Bolani's Iraq's Unity list. His family was severely repressed by Saddam and relatives executed. He headed a party running in the last election in 2005 but it failed to perform strongly.