Iraqis go to the polls on January 31 for the first time in more than three years in milestone local elections that could redraw the country's political map.
Below are some facts about Iraq's provincial elections.
WHO IS VOTING?
* Iraqis in 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces will vote to select members of provincial councils, whose duties include choosing provincial governors and provincial administrations.
* There are 440 provincial council seats at stake:
Province Capital Seats
Baghdad Baghdad 57
Anbar Ramadi 29
Basra Basra 35
Diyala Baquba 29
Nineveh Mosul 37
Maysan Amara 27
Wasit Kut 28
Kerbala Kerbala 27
Salahuddin Tikrit 28
Dhi Qar Nassiriya 31
Najaf Najaf 28
Babil Hilla 30
Muthanna Samawa 26
Qadisiya Diwaniya 28
WHO IS NOT VOTING?
* Elections in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which includes three provinces, are expected to take place this year, but no date has yet been set.
* Voting in the oil-producing, ethnically mixed province of Kirkuk was delayed over disputes between Kurds, who want to fold it into their semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan region, and Arabs and Turkmen who want to keep it under Baghdad's control. No date has been set.
WHO IS RUNNING?
* 14,431 candidates are registered, including 3,912 women. They belong to more than 400 parties or groups.
* In past elections, voters were only allowed to choose from party lists. This time, they must pick a party or group, but can also vote for an individual candidate from their selected group if they wish. A complicated formula will be used to allocate seats between lists and among candidates within each list.
* Parties that win three or more seats must give every third seat to a woman.
* Six seats nationally are set aside for candidates from Christian, Shabak, Yazidi and Sabean religious minorities.
WHY ARE THE ELECTIONS IMPORTANT?
* The elections will not only reshape local government but could set the tone for parliamentary elections in late 2009.
* The polls are also expected to change the balance of power among Iraq's Sunni Arabs, many of whom did not participate in the last provincial elections in 2005. Their marginalisation has helped fuel discontent and violence.
* The United States expects that many tribal leaders whose support of "Awakening Councils," neighborhood patrol units instrumental in reining in violence, will win power from other Sunni parties.
* The vote will pit Shi'ite parties that ran as coalition partners in the last Iraqi election against each other. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's small Dawa party will be fighting for influence in southern Iraq against the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), a religious party founded in exile in Iran when Saddam Hussein was still in charge.
* The elections could also help define the influence of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shi'ite cleric who commanded a once-powerful militia that was weakened by government offensives last year. Sadr's political front is not presenting its own list in the election but will support individual candidates.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan in Baghdad; Editing by Michael Christie and Samia Nakhoul)