Feb 24 A plethora of alliances are contesting Iraq's parliamentary election on March 7, with none of them likely to garner a clear majority. That means it may take weeks if not months for parliament to pick the next prime minister.
The following are political figures who have been mentioned as possible prime ministerial hopefuls:
* Nuri al-Maliki - The current prime minister is contesting the election at the head of the State of Law coalition. While his Dawa party has Islamist roots, 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 Shi'ite south, in provincial elections in January 2009. The last months of 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 attacks by suicide bombers on Baghdad and bomb attacks on Shi'ite pilgrims has dented Maliki's security credentials. He also failed to forge as broad a cross-sectarian alliance for the national vote as he had hoped for, and Maliki now looks weaker than he did a year ago.
Maliki is regarded as sincere and honest by supporters. He is viewed by critics as divisive and quick to cause anger. He has turned many former allies into foes, and critics question his willingness to seek reconciliation with once dominant Sunnis.
* Bayan Jabor - A prominent leader in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), one of Maliki's main Shi'ite partners-turned-rivals in the election. Jabor has been the finance minister in Maliki's government. He was the interior minister under the previous government of Ibrahim 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.
* Iyad Allawi - A secular Shi'ite, 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 Mutlaq from the election for alleged links to Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
A doctor by training, Allawi has become a leading critic of Maliki's government and of the U.S. invasion. Once also highly critical of Iranian involvement in Iraq, and in particular of Tehran's support for Shi'ite militia, Allawi is reported to have since sought to mend fences.
* Ibrahim al-Jaafari - A Shi'ite politician, Jaafari was prime minister in the Iraqi Transitional Government between 2005 and 2006. Jaafari was the head of 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 - 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 Hussein 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.
* Ahmed Chalabi - A secular Shi'ite, Chalabi rose to prominence as leader of the then-exiled Iraqi National Congress which played a major role in encouraging the U.S. 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 - Currently interior minister, Bolani is believed to have irritated others in the government, especially Maliki, when he formed the Constitution Party ahead of the January 2009 provincial election. The party did not perform strongly and Bolani had been expected by many to link up with Maliki for the national election.
Instead he has formed an alliance with Ahmed Abu Risha, a prominent leader of anti-al Qaeda tribal sheikhs, and Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai of the Sunni Endowment, a government body that supervises Sunni mosques and properties. Their list is called Iraq's Unity. Bolani was an army officer under Saddam.
* Qassam Daoud - A liberal Shi'ite politician, Daoud was a member of Allawi's Iraqiya list and minister of national security under Allawi. He left to join the Shi'ite alliance backing Maliki's government and has signed up with the ISCI- and Sadrist-led INA for the coming election.
* Raad Mawlude Mukhlis - 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.