Iraqi political groups have for several months been trying to forge a coalition government, following the inconclusive parliamentary elections in March 2010.
As no single party or bloc commands a majority of the 325 seats in parliament, the contenders have had to forge new partnerships and deals in their efforts to share out the positions of power.
This is the main Shia parliamentary bloc. It was formed after the March 2010 elections as a result of a merger of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).
The National Alliance decided in October to support Mr Maliki's bid for a second term as premier, but the decision was reportedly not unanimous.
STATE OF LAW COALITION: This grouping - which merged with the Iraqi National Alliance to form the National Alliance - is led by outgoing Prime Minister Maliki, who has been seeking a second term in power.
The bloc purportedly cut across religious and tribal lines. It included Mr Maliki's Shia Islamist Dawa [Call] Party as well as some Sunni tribal leaders, Shia Kurds, Christians and independents.
Mr Maliki said the alliance wanted an Iraq built on nationalist principles.
However, many of the minority Sunnis apparently aren't confident that he truly believes they should be given a large share of power.
Mr Maliki hoped to capitalise on successes of his first term in office. However, his record on security was undermined by a series of high-profile attacks on government targets in Baghdad before the March elections.
IRAQI NATIONAL ALLIANCE (INA): This mainly Shia alliance - which merged with the State of Law Coalition - includes followers of the powerful cleric and one-time militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.
It brings together the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council (IISC), the Basra-based Fadhilah party, a few Sunni leaders, former prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, and Ahmad Chalabi - the former exile who played a key role before the 2003 US-led invasion.
Jaafari was prime minister in the Iraqi Transitional Government between 2005 and 2006 and his reputation was tainted by the fact that militias took over the security services while he was in charge, and by the sectarian war that ensued.
A senior leader of the IISC is outgoing Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
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 outgoing 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.
The Kurds have played king-maker in Iraq since the 2003 invasion and will likely retain enough clout to be part of a ruling alliance with another faction.
This alliance won the election by a slim two-seat margin over outgoing Prime Minister Maliki's State of Law, but neither came anywhere near the majority needed to govern.
It is led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia widely supported by Sunnis who view him as a strongman capable of countering Shia power Iran.
The alliance includes outgoing Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, 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 Saleh al-Mutlaq in particular, have a more consistent anti-sectarian perspective than most of their rivals.
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.
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 Speaker of the last 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 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.
Smaller minorities, including Turkmen, Christians, Yazidis, Sabean Mandaeans, Shabak and others, were thought likely to ally with bigger electoral lists in areas where they were not dominant.
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