Ayatollah Sistani. A crusty old cleric whose delphic pronouncements are received as gospel by his followers, Sistani almost never leaves his house and has spurned U.S. officials’ pleas for a meeting.
His once-supreme influence is declining in favor of the Shiite militias, but he did help put together the United Iraqi Alliance bloc, by far the biggest of the multiparty coalitions that dominate Iraq’s Parliament.
Islamic Dawa. One of the groups in the United Iraqi Alliance, Dawa is the party of current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was founded in 1957 by Shiite ayatollahs as a counterforce to the Communist and Baath parties. Dawa later won support from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, formed a terrorist branch, and in 1983 bombed the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. Today, it is led by Islamist scholars.
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. sciri and its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, were founded as a fundamentalist Shiite party in 1982, under the tutelage of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guard; they have been supported by Iran ever since.
Party leader Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a cleric and former commander of the Badr Brigade who favors autonomy for the Shiite south, was invited to the White House last year. sciri is blamed for torture and assassinations, and its members have infiltrated the Iraqi army and police.
Mahdi Army. A cluster of militias led by the controversial and charismatic (in a grim-faced sort of way) thirtysomething cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family that helped found Dawa. Its tens of thousands of armed men are only loosely under Sadr’s control. Like sciri, the Mahdi Army has spawned death squads, including a possibly rogue unit in Baghdad led by Abu Deraa, "the Zarqawi of the Shiites." Sadr, who also has ties to Iran, is more of an Iraqi nationalist than other Iran-allied Shiites.
Iraqi National List. Though led by a Shiite--ex-Baathist and former cia and mi6 asset Ayad Allawi, who was prime minister until early 2005--the Iraqi National List is a primarily nonsectarian coalition.
It was created as an inclusive alternative to the fundamentalist Shiite parties and includes the party of top Sunni tribal leader (and former Iraqi VP) Ghazi al-Yawer.
Iraq Accord Front. Led by Adnan al-Dulaimi, scion of the largest Sunni tribe in Anbar province, the most religion-oriented of the Sunni coalitions includes the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society founded in Cairo in 1928. Because the Islamic Party participated in various transitional governments, the coalition is now seen by many Sunnis as too close to the United States; in the late 2005 elections, which many Sunnis boycotted, the Iraq Accord Front became Parliament’s largest Sunni bloc.
Iraqi National Dialogue Front. Led by Saleh al-Mutlaq, a former Baath party member said to be connected to the insurgency, this bloc has 11 seats in Parliament.
Association of Muslim Scholars.This coalition of clerics straddles the gap between the Sunni establishment and the insurgency.
Its leader, Harith al-Dhari, is more nationalist than Islamist; his son has called the group "the political arm of the resistance fighting to evict American forces from Iraq." The Iraqi government has a warrant out for Dhari’s arrest.
The Insurgency. A mostly Sunni "network of networks" linking disparate interests such as former military and intelligence officers, Baath party officials, tribal groups, clergymen, nationalists, and Islamists, the insurgency today has tens of thousands of men under arms. A key underground leader is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a top official under Saddam.
Al Qaeda in Iraq. Founded by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda makes up a small percentage of the insurgency, but its actions are responsible for a disproportionate number of civilian killings. Its leadership is opaque, and its relationship, if any, to Osama bin Laden is unclear. Its rapport with the rest of the insurgency is strained at best.
Kurdistan Democratic Party.The largest and most powerful Kurdish party. Founded in 1946 by a wily warlord, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the kdp and its pesh merga ("facing death") militia remain a family affair. Its founder’s son, Massoud Barzani, is the president of the Kurdish government in northern Iraq, and lots of other Barzanis help run the kdp today.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The kdp’s younger sibling was founded by current Iraqi president Jalal Talabani in 1975, after the collapse of a kdp-sponsored uprising supported by the cia, the Mossad, and the Shah of Iran. The puk has gotten support from Syria and Iran; in the ’90s it was embroiled in a civil war against the kdp. An alliance between the two parties has 53 seats in Parliament; both want independence for the Kurds.
(Originally posted at Mother Jones.)