The main political groups are as follows:

The Kurds

Kurdish people live in many parts of Iraq, but most are concentrated in the three northern provinces that have been effectively independent under the protection of the coalition no-fly zone since 1991. The Kurdish people are divided by language and religious sect. Most are Sunni, some are Shia and some are Christians, although these are normally considered to be Kurdish-speaking Assyrians.

Persian-speaking Kurds are known as Faili Kurds. They have had a longstanding double grievance against the Iraqi government since they were regarded by the regime as both non-Arab and non-Iraqi.

There are two major political groups. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was founded in 1946 and is believed to command the most support among Iraqi Kurds. Its leader is Massoud Barzani, son of KDP founder Mustafa Barzani. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was set up in 1969 as a result of a split within the KDP. The PUK, which controls the Kurdish areas closest to the border with Iran, is headed by Jalal Talabani, a 70-year-old former Marxist and veteran guerrilla leader. The party traditionally has appealed more to urban and industrial workers than the KDP. There are at least five other significant Kurdish political groups, some of them represented in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a coalition dominated by the KDP and the PUK.

The Shias

Shia Muslims, members of the principal Muslim minority sect, account for about 65 per cent of the Iraqi population. The largest organised Shia group is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), a Tehran-based umbrella organisation representing Shia groups and figures and headed by its president Mohammad Bakir al-Hakim. Sciri has a general assembly of 70 members which elects an 11-strong central committee. Sciri was a founder member of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) but it has not co-operated with the group since 1998.

Turkomans

Descendants of Turkic settlers, the Turkomans are the third largest ethnic group in Iraq, numbering up to 2.5 million people. They live mainly in the northern areas of Iraq, where the Kurds are in the majority. The Turkomans, like the Kurds, complain against discrimination by central government but also fear Kurdish domination of the northern region of Iraq. The Iraqi Turkoman Front, a coalition of 23 Turkoman groups with close links to Turkey, operates in northern Iraq but has refused to participate in the KRG. Turkomans, like Kurds, lay claim to Kirkuk.

Assyrians

The Assyrians are Christians descended from the Assyrian peoples of Mesopotamia. They are generally attached to one of four churches affiliated either to the Vatican or to the Greek Orthodox church. There are a number of Assyrian political parties operating in northern Iraq. The Assyrian Consultative Committee, consisting of eight members, was formed in December 2002 at the Iraqi Opposition Conference held in London.

National political movements

There are a number of political groups seeking to establish a non-confessional and non-ethnic position in post-crisis Iraq.

The London-based Constitutional Monarchist Movement,a member of the INC, is headed by Sharif Ali bin AlHussein, who claims to be the heir to the Iraqi throne abolished in the 1958 republican revolution.

The Iraqi National Accord, also a member of the INC, mainly comprises former Iraqi military officers. It was founded in 1990 and is headed by secretary-general Ayad Allawi. In March, the organisation shifted its head office from Washington to Amman.

The Arab Baath Socialist Party, a movement which synthesised socialism, Arab nationalism and militarism, was founded in Damascus in 1947 and spread across the Arab world. The party split soon after coming to power in Syria and in Iraq. In Iraq, it quickly became an instrument for advancing the interests of Saddam Hussein, his family and his Tikrit-based clan. The US-led coalition has so far refused to rule out the possibility that the party will be allowed to play a role in the future of Iraq.

The Assembly of Independent Iraqi Democratsis a new body led by Adnan Pachachi, a foreign minister in the government before the Baathists took power in 1968. Pachachi, a Sunni Muslim, is based in London and Abu Dhabi.

Other political groups include the Iraqi Communist Party, once a key political force in the country, small nationalist and pan-Arabist parties, Shia organisations and parties that are essentially based on personalities with business or tribal connections.